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a note from a friend.

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i asked my new friend to write to me about her story to accompany this image i snapped after our lunch in cherry creek together.

Dear MB,
Last year, I celebrated my 7 year cancer anniversary by participating in the COCA’s Jodi’s run for the first time. I had no idea the emotions I would experience that day. Crossing the finish line with my daughter on my shoulders was like a dream to me and you captured that special moment with your beautiful photographs. That moment was also special because I sought you out so I could obtain a copy of that photo and connected with you and… what are the chances that we would both be be survivors of the very rare (ominous and special!) ovarian carcinosarcoma?

June 25, 2006 was a typical, beautiful Colorado day. I went for a run and reflected on how beautiful the day was and how lucky I was for my friends and family and how I loved my profession as a veterinarian. Later that day, I had to go to a picnic and as I got dressed, my shorts were oddly snug around my waist and I noticed by abdomen felt asymmetrically firm and I was even able to palpate a mass. It did not hurt. It was just there. I remember that morning so distinctly. 10:30am run. 2pm: abdominal mass. On Monday I called my doctor and asked for an appointment. I was told the first available appointment was mid-July. I then asked if I should go to an emergency hospital or could I be referred elsewhere because I knew something was not right. I called a few times that day and eventually the doctor made time for me that afternoon and she concurred: mass. Then the rest of the week was ultrasound, bloodwork, X-rays, CT scan. My head was spinning. I was driving all over Denver for all my various diagnostics with printed out Mapquest directions (before the days of smart phones!). I was on my own and was so overwhelmed and at the end of diagnostic day #2, got lost in a hospital trying to leave after my CT scan and could not find the exit. When I finally found the exit, I was on the other side of the hospital and could not find my car. I felt trapped in a nightmare, which had only just begun! On Thursday 6/29, I met with the gyn-oncologist. He said that though the CT scan interpretation said I most likely had cancer, he felt that based on the large size of the tumor, I more likely had a 95% chance of a benign tumor. PHEW! Nightmare over! I was going to be ok! I knew it!

The following week, July 3rd, I had my surgery for my “benign” ovarian mass. In the recovery room, I woke up confused as to why it was so late in the day and my eyes focused on the anesthesiologist’s sad eyes looking down at me. She told me my gyn-oncologist would be with me in a moment and then I got the sense that my tumor was not benign after all. Sad. My doctor came to me and said that indeed frozen sections demonstrated malignancy and he had to open me up again and take out omentum, lymph nodes, etc. Final diagnosis was ovarian carcinosarcoma. I googled it. Yikes! Median survival time of what? My doctor told me that it was the first time he had seen this type of cancer in his career and that it was rare and he really did not know much about it and showed me the paper that I had already read on-line prior to the appointment. He told me that I may have been cured and may not need additional chemotherapy or surgery. Because he had not seen it before, he recommended I go out of state to a university for a second opinion. Then my doctor went on vacation that afternoon for 2 wks. It was very hard for me to figure out how to get a second opinion as many cancer hospitals require a referral and I could not obtain one because of my doctor’s vacation, no matter how hard I tried. Also, when I was told to go out of state, what does this mean? Where should I go? There are so many states and so many hospitals? I was overwhelmed!!! Lucky for me, my high school friend’s wife worked with the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund and she was a huge source of information and support. Additionally, my sister is a surgeon in Connecticut and had worked with a gyn-oncologist at Yale named Dr. Rutherford. I flew out to CT for a consultation. Amazingly, he is the expert on our crappy cancer. He told me: You have a very bad cancer. It is very aggressive and spreads everywhere and the first place it will go is the other ovary. Because so much time has passed since your surgery, we do not have time to go back to surgery and remove your remaining ovary and uterus and you must start chemotherapy immediately. So, I had my 6 rounds of carbo/taxol and the rest is history.

As you have experienced, illness is difficult. I learned that truly, you are your best advocate. I do not see myself as assertive but in June 2006, I knew something was not right and kept pestering the first doctor to see me. And if she did not have time to see me, I would have seen another MD because I could feel a distinct mass that did not belong there. I was also upset with Dr. #2. I felt stranded by him. I spent so much time trying to get that second opinion. But what I learned with that is that things happen for a reason. Had I had “optimal” care, I might have had my ovary and uterus removed and then I would not have my daughter. After chemo was completed, I pursued fertility treatments and was told repeatedly by 2 fertility specialists at that clinic that my remaining ovary was damaged by the chemotherapy and I was in menopause. They recommended I join a support group for menopause, investigate donor eggs, or adoption. I could not accept this and after a year of being told to give up, went to another clinic and was told I had a 25% chance of pregnancy. It was a long road but after 3 years, had a little girl.

I think that the whole cancer journey for me was easy-peasy compared to other patients. How lucky am I – I am alive and also, I have my happy life! 8 years ago, I could barely even allow the idea of a happy family to enter into my hopes and dreams for the future. Sometimes I look at my husband and daughter and wonder if I am dreaming, am I really alive? And now 8 years later, I try not to allow the idea of relapse to enter into my mind but that fear still tiptoes in to my head more frequently than I like to admit. But when it does, it reminds me to live in the moment. When the sky is a beautiful Colorado blue, I take note! When my daughter asks me to paint her little fingernails, i savor each little dab of pink. I make a point of saying nice things to my husband and daughter (hopefully frequently enough!). Though I believe I am cured, my gyn-oncologist reminds me that I have a “special” cancer. I still need imaging studies, now annually. Though I am a lifetime member of the Cancer Club, I am so happy. Cancer is unfair and it sucks but it we can still live our lives and be happy. Though the fear is still there, it is lower grade and ebbs with time. I PROMISE!

June is a sensitive time of year for me. It should be a happy time, right? But instead, I have had unpleasant and vivid flashbacks of June 25, 2006 as well as the unpleasant weeks that followed. Because of Jodi’s run, my anniversary is much more celebratory and much less scary. It is fate that you took that victorious and joyous photo of me and my daughter last June. That was such a special day and I am so glad that I shared it with you and that it brought us together.

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an ovarian cancer survivor. in her own words

meet hallie.

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and here’s hallie in her owns words…(part of a portrait project i am doing on the amazing souls i’ve crossed paths with during this ongoing journey with cancer. completely in their own words added to the images of their choice from our mini session together.)

One of the hardest things about going through cancer, besides facing the possibility of death, was all losing control of what was happening to me. During cancer treatment, I was swept along through a current of doctor visits, agonizing side effects from chemo, scans, waiting for results, surgery, scars, hair loss, as I just held on tight and tried to stay afloat.

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After standard treatment was over, and I was declared cancer-free last June, I found myself in strange new territory…and forever changed from this experience. Before I had cancer, when I would hear about someone in remission after treatment, I just assumed that they returned to their life…grateful to be alive and ready to move forward. For me, this has not been the case. While I feel an intense amount of gratitude for each day, each moment with my children, each sunset, the unwavering love and support from family and friends, the looming fear of recurrence can sometimes be paralyzing.

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During the past ten months since treatment ended, I have been feeling my way along, not charging forward. My days consist of a series of baby steps to slowly reclaim my life. Along the way, I have been given so many gifts, large and small. I have found an entire community of cancer survivors, who are now among my dearest friends. I have learned to accept my physical body, even with extra weight, scars, missing parts, and crazy curls growing on my head. This body has such resilience! Such an amazing capacity for healing! After battling cancer, I am able to find contentment and joy in such simple things. I savor life, even the messy stuff. I have learned to tune into my own needs more than I ever did before.

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I take naps. I drink prosecco. I hike the in mountains near my home. I snuggle with my kids and scratch their backs…when I should be doing laundry. I write love notes to my husband. I do all these things, and realize that none of us have much control over what is happening to us, cancer or not. What we do have control over is our ability to treat ourselves with love and compassion, which then radiates through us to touch others.

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if you know a cancer survivor who would like to do a photo session and write about their story please contact me. a high quality 5×7 professional print of each photo selected for the blog will be provided to the participant at no cost. (additional prints can be purchased from the gallery provided.)

Marlene and Cal Bilger - March 17, 2014 - 5:04 pm

Hallie. You are exactly why Jodi created Jodi’s Race. How proud she would be of you and what you learned from this devastating experience. Keep being the lovely person you are inside and out. See you in June. Mar and Cal Bilger
Jodi’s Dad and stepmom.

Meg Franklin-Judd - March 18, 2014 - 5:18 am

I almost lost my best friend to this at age 19. We were too young & naive to be scared (outwardly, at least). Our conversations now in regards to this are amazing, joyful, painful.
It was a horrifying gift that shaped our futures.
Thank you.

italy….{PISA and FLORENCE}

the problem with traveling to italy is that one trip makes you crave the next…and the next and the next. it’s like an addiction. i honestly hadn’t anticipated that aspect of living out my dream.

while creating these collages my heart raced and each image began to evoke powerful memories and lots of endorphins…like a rush of caffeine is zipping through my veins at record speed. this morning as i type i am getting to do what photographers get to do often…taste life twice. {and boy does it taste good!} this time in review my heart is aching for more. i want to travel again and again to this magical land where my grandparents were born. where my family and my heritage began.

i’m not waiting to see if ovarian cancer returns….i’m starting up my ‘italy jar’ savings again today.

PISA

PISA

FLORENCE

FLORENCE

MY SWEET FRIEND DIANA

MY SWEET FRIEND DIANA

NIGHT TIME IN FLORENCE

NIGHT TIME IN FLORENCE

FLORENCE ART

FLORENCE ART

THE DUOMO VIEW FROM THE BAPTISTRY

THE DUOMO VIEW FROM THE BAPTISTRY

VESPA RIDE THROUGH TUSCANY

VESPA RIDE THROUGH TUSCANY

are ya havin’ any fun?….whatcha getting outta livin…? {tony bennett}

“are you having any fun?” you tube it… and play it loudly while you are reading this post!

i LOVE that song…and all it’s reminders that “you ain’t gonna live forever–before you’re old and gray and still ok have yourself a little fun!”

we listen to that song loudly and often.

so this weekend we kept on our jammies (and the boys grabbed a ski hat…why not right?) and we “had ourselves a little fun!” i busted out the watercolors i used circa 1992 in my art classes at penn state and made some new memories with them. see you don’t have to go anywhere fancy to ‘have yourself a little FUN…’

so i challenge you…go have some fun! and please know that i am a lifestyle photographer….i’d love to come and capture your family enjoying time together!

feb painting 2-14 web

feb painting 2-14 web1

bucket list….{my italian adventure part 1 of 4}

30 euro bellinis'--hell yeah!

30 euro bellinis’–hell yeah!


 
anyone who knows me knows that ITALY  has been on my bucket list for many many years now.  and it took surviving ovarian cancer (and a generous check from my mom and dad) to finally push me to go.   it’s been 3 months since i returned from my 10 day adventure there and it’s now just settling in that i actually did it.  a warmth washes over me when i think of it.  and when i look back at the photos…my heart races hand-in-hand with my mind.  it really did happen didn’t it?  it wasn’t just a dream.  and it was absolutely perfect.

photography helps me to taste life twice.  these photos remind me of the textures, colors, tastes and smells of my italian adventure.  and to daydream about another trip down the line.  hopefully sooner than later.  see the thing about an italy addiction is that you can never satiate it.  you constantly want more.  you dream of making more memories and exploring new places.

dreams keep us afloat.  they surround us with hope and cushion the reality of life.  i remember sitting in a chemo room with my sister as the IV pumped into my veins….dreamily surrounding my reality.  my sister put a photo of vernazza in cinque terre on my iPad screen saver.  the beautiful palette of colors from that photo taunted me and filled me with hope and light to get through some of my darkest and hardest days.

i took so many photos that it’s impossible to add my favs to just one blog post…so i am breaking it into four different posts….just in an attempt to capture it all and properly document it…as well as  to remind myself that dreams really do come true. and that i should never put dreams on the back burner like i did before.  life is happening NOW.  there aren’t any dress rehearsals!

the italian adventure crew.

the italian adventure crew.

train from milan to santa margarita (cinque terre)

train from milan to santa margarita (cinque terre)


the announcement of the trains arriving and departing in italian made my heart swell with excitement!

the sound of the trains arriving and departing in italian made my heart swell with excitement!

 

i asked the travel agent to book us in the best hotel we could afford as this was my first taste of italy.  and the hotel grande miramare did not disappoint!

i asked the travel agent to book us in the best hotel we could afford as this was my first taste of italy. and the hotel grande miramare did not disappoint!

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my sister and a friend were anxiously awaiting our arrival in santa margarita and we celebrated on the lovely terrace of the hotel.

my sister and a friend were anxiously awaiting our arrival in santa margarita and we celebrated on the lovely terrace of the hotel.

jet lag and all it was time to celebrate a dream come true.

jet lag and all it was time to celebrate a dream come true.

sisters.

sisters.

dipping my toes in the ligurian sea.  pure bliss.

dipping my toes in the ligurian sea. pure bliss.

a lovely rainstorm greeted us on our first night on the town.  it was a cool and glorious night.  a perfect gift as i adore rain.

a lovely rainstorm greeted us on our first night on the town. it was a cool and glorious night. a perfect gift as i adore rain.

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a well deserved toast.

a well deserved toast.

and lots of additional toasts at the hotel bar...which we closed out just about every night.

and lots of additional toasts at the hotel bar…which we closed out just about every night.

taken from the balcony of my room.  what a view and first impression of italy.

taken from the balcony of my room. what a view and first impression of italy.

our walk to portofino.  not the safest walk but certainly one of the most memorable from our trip

our walk to portofino. not the safest walk but certainly one of the most memorable from our trip

our walk to portofino.  not the safest walk but certainly one of the most memorable from our trip.

our walk to portofino. not the safest walk but certainly one of the most memorable from our trip.

and we are off...

and we are off…

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a new friend joins the group.  and our lives.

a new friend joins the group. and our lives.

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lovely portofino.

lovely portofino.

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our trip was at the end of october so not a lot of boats were out...but it was still so beautiful to see the ones we did.

our trip was at the end of october so not a lot of boats were out…but it was still so beautiful to see the ones we did.


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besties.

besties.

lunch by the sea.

lunch by the sea.

part 2/next stop–cinque terre.