A huge thanks to the wonderful people at Flashes of Hope for another opportunity to work with them and these families at UNC's Pediatric Cancer Center. It is such a privilege to play even a tiny part in the healing process for these kids and their parents.
I want to address two questions that I get a lot from people who have not had this experience and legitimately wonder what it's like to work with kids in this circumstance.
Gratitude and Guilt Run Concurrently
You have to accept that when you leave the hospital after photographing a dozen or so families who are going through some scary times, you will be emotionally spent. You'll go home and kiss your own babies and thank whomever it is that you thank for their health. At the same time, the conflict arises when you begin to wonder why you are luckier than those other parents you met that day, or if you just haven't had your turn yet.
I'm fortunate that for me at least, I'm distractible enough so this opposing set of emotions only turn up after the session. During the session I am concentrating on the task at hand which is telling a small piece this family's story through photographs.
It's Not Sad
Kids are strong and resilient and sick or not, kids are kids and they're usually looking for a party. All of them are there to get better and the majority of them do just that. Some come into our little make shift studio we create in the nurse's break room feeling run down, some come in ready to play. All of them are living out their own unique story and it's not one of despair.
My job as the story teller is not to impose a false narrative by coaxing them to smile or be silly for every photo. I'm not there to provide visual evidence that what they are going through is easy or fun. If they are quiet, then the images will reflect it. If they are expressive, then it's my job to draw that out of them in a way that tells the story of their current circumstances and show so much more than "I'm sick".
This is a story of struggle, but also of family, of rallying the troops and concentrating love and energy toward one of their own. Sick kids don't lose their light, their playfulness, or their curiosity, but they do require community to get them through it. And they will get through it. Some faster than others, but when they do, I want them to look back at their pictures from that time in their life and see much more than just a smiling face. I want them to look into their own eyes and see that they were strong; see that they were loved and remember the struggles they faced and realize that they made it through.