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Monday, February 27, 2012

Zoe's Story - Hodgkin's Lymphoma | Maris Ehlers Photography

Dress by Mestad's Formal Wear

I don't think I need to start this post off with the "life's not fair" line.  For one reason or another, most of us already know this is true.  

We know that jobs and relationships don't always last forever, and times can get tougher than we might have imagined. Sometimes, when life seems just about perfect, there's a sucker punch up ahead that we won't have seen coming. That's the way life is. 

We look for the good, keep the bad at bay where we can, and let the mundane balance out the rest. And in the end, we realize that flaws and all -  life is pretty good.  
But today as you read this, I want you to think about something. While many 17 year old girls in the middle of their senior year in high school will wake up tomorrow morning with the pressures and joys that they have in their lives, at least one girl here in Minnesota will be preparing for yet another hospital stay, and will be preparing for her third round of chemotherapy. The chemotherapy will bring about days and weeks in which she will not feel well enough to do much of anything.  This third round will be the most challenging and the most intense, but our hope and prayers are that it also brings her cure. 
So just how rough will your Monday morning be?
I first met Zoe when her mother Barb contacted me about photographing her senior portraits this past summer. Zoe is a senior at MGSH, and so we met on a sunny summer afternoon for her session. Angel and I were immediately captivated by her sweet smile and this funny shy little giggle that she has. Those of you who know Zoe know EXACTLY what I am talking about! 
Barb, Zoe and her sister Rachel were all so sweet.  We really enjoyed our afternoon with them, and to say that Zoe is gorgeous is a complete understatement. She really is, and as a photographer, I can't help but appreciate that! 
I watched (mostly through facebook), Zoe enjoy the rest of her summer and start her senior year.  Pictures of her with friends, on outings and at  school events - typical senior year stuff was posted, and as with most of my clients, I enjoyed being able to see little snippets of what she was up to.  All was well. 
And then the sucker punch came. 
Zoe's mom emailed me just after Christmas to tell me that Zoe had been diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, and wanted to know if they could get some of her senior photos to put on her Caring Bridge site. I was dumbstruck. Sweet, giggly Zoe? How could that be?  
Since then, I have read every guest post and every journal entry on her Caring Bridge site, and have been surprised at times that I have felt so attached to Zoe and her family's struggle, especially since I really only saw Zoe in person a couple of times. 
However, as the person who captured her senior portraits, I have literally spent hours upon hours with Zoe. :) Proofing pictures, editing, posting, editing some more, ordering and printing. Whenever I finish with a client's portraits, I feel like I have a stake in who they are and what they are about. With Zoe it was no different, except that she made it so easy to be utterly charmed by her sweet smile and kind and gentle ways.  
"Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory.
- Unknown

When it worked out that Zoe was willing to let me photograph her as she is today, in the middle of treatment, I was literally thrilled. Not because I wanted to push Zoe beyond her comfort zone (I imagine she's had more than enough of that of late), but because I wanted to create an opportunity for her to embrace the being that she is today - just as she is right in this moment. While we all can’t wait for this to be over for Zoe, I want to stop time in this moment so it will be here for her later when she is ready to relive it in her memories.  

Dress by Mestad's Formal Wear

What I want for Zoe, whether it be now, tomorrow, in a few days when she feels terrible due to her treatment or many years from now when she is living a happy and full life, that she will be able to look back at this moment and recognize her true strength and beauty, as the rest of us see it. Not just from a memory, but from an actual reflection of herself, in the form of real photographs. 

I imagine that she is learning a lot about herself these days, and I bet that she is constantly surprising herself and her family with her ability to adapt and cope along this journey. 
I am so incredibly proud of Zoe for allowing herself to be, feel and look vulnerable, especially in front of a camera with images that will go near and far. Vulnerability is indeed one of life's greatest gifts, and while it often comes from tragedy, heartbreak or trauma, it is what allows us to reach outside ourselves and connect in meaningful ways with the world around us. Zoe is living that right now, and you can see it in these images. 

There are many more lovely images from our time together that we won't be posting now, because in the weeks to come we will be working on a project that Zoe is helping us with that we hope you all will consider participating in.  
As I mentioned earlier, tomorrow Zoe goes in for her third round of chemotherapy today. Please take a moment and say a prayer or send a kind thought along for Zoe and her family during this difficult time. 

Zoe, thank you so much for trusting me. I hope you can truly feel the love from the people and communities who care for you. 

Special Thanks To: 
Mestads - what a great selection of amazing prom dresses!  They were kind enough to lend us three different and gorgeous gowns for Zoe's shoot…  Thank you! 
Makeup:  Jamie Duncanson
Styling:  Dawn Fryxell of Lucky Girl Jewels and Styling
Assisted by:  Angel Petit of Maris Ehlers Photography 


BrendaJo said...

Fabulous photos, amazing courage and beauty. Thank you for sharing Zoe's story with all of us!

Anonymous said...

Zoe is beautiful!!

Kristin Smith said...

Beautiful girl, beautiful pictures, beautiful story

May said...

Zoe is still as stunning as her senior photos. I can see her beautiful soul through that smile!