(This article has been proof-read by Piney’s Mom.)
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. During this month, I gifted a birthday/family portrait session to a local warrior – 3 year old Piney who was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) when she was 18 months old.
How I got to know Piney and her family is a good story to share of its own. Many of you might have already known that I am a Girl Scout co-leader for my older two daughters’ troops. It has been our troops’ tradition that each year, we will identify a cause and donate about 1/3 of our cookie money to that cause to help others. This year, we toured the Make-A-Wish® foundation castle located in Monroe, NJ. It is a beautiful place filled with touching stories that will make you tear, however none of us would ever wish any kid ever use the wishing place.
Shortly after the tour, the cookie Mom from one of the troops approached us and introduced Piney to us. At the time, Piney was about two-and-a-half years old, just reached the eligibility for the Make-A-Wish® program and the family was considering filing an application.
After several messages exchanges, we learned more about Piney and her battle against AML: the risky and extensive procedures that she had to go through in order to be able to accept multiple rounds of aggressive chemo treatments, the life threatening side-effects of the medication, how unfortunately a bone marrow transplant is not a very viable option for her since she has Down Syndrome, and how the entire family’s life has changed to accommodate such situation. The troops, along with several parents, decided to further contribute some gifts to show support of Piney and her family. In August, I together with the cookie Mom represented our troops to deliver the gifts, and that is when I met Piney’s Mom in person for the very first time.
She is a beautiful, confident, super intelligent and sensible lady. It was very comfortable and pleasant chatting with her. We went pretty deep on all sorts of topics including children’s education, the struggles trying to get balanced as a Mom, and just life philosophies in general. She is incredibly strong, but when she shared with us how she just had a major breakdown prior to coming to our meeting after learning one of Piney’s buddies at the cancer center lost his battle, she got quite emotional. I held her hands as I could sense her fear. It is hard to image how much she and the family needs to go through on a daily basis. I wonder what else I could do to help and I wish I could do more than just donating some gifts. What about a family portrait? I assume every family needs one at one point to preserve their memories. This is something I could do for them. So I offered Piney’s Mom an on-location family portrait session. I was so glad to hear that is exactly one task on their to-do-list.
August was a busy month for me (well, which month isn’t?). I exchanged emails with Piney’s Mom several times and we tentatively set a date in September for the portrait session pending how Piney feels. September came and I got the good news to go ahead.
On the date of the session I was super excited. I arrived their house, a very warm and cozy place with a golden ribbon sign standing for child cancer awareness on their front window. On the wall of the entry way there is a very nice black and white portrait of the whole family. I later learned it was taken by a volunteer photographer from Flashes of Hope at the hospital when Piney was under treatment around her 2nd birthday. Piney was with very little hair in the picture and both parents look a bit tired.
Mom was nervous at first. She was concerned that Piney wouldn’t cooperate and I might end up wasting my time coming over. I eased her concerns and said “the most we can do is to give it a try and I think I am pretty good with kids.”
Piney was sitting on the floor in her playroom playing with her big brother J. She is super adorable and looks quite different from the picture on the wall. I love her full, curly brown hair, which the family often jokes as the “hot mess”. She greeted me with a soft and polite voice, a bit shy. She got interested in watching me setting up the backdrop and strobe lights. While I was asking J to pose for me for a few test shots, she stepped in and before we all knew it, the session started with Piney and J comfortably posing for me like pros. Even Mom and Dad were surprised.
The rest of the session went extremely smoothly and we had lots of fun. While Piney was getting changed for her next outfit I took some solo pictures of J and had a great conversation with him. He proudly showed me his music instruments and shared soccer stories. I told him how I chickened out of soccer completely at one point because I couldn’t take the pressure and responsibility of being a goalie. The guitar in the collage that I created for J is a birthday gift he received on his 10th birthday. J told me his only wish is for his baby sister to get well and be healthy.
We also captured beautiful and loving family portraits, some are even for the holiday season. I would leave the family to enjoy those portraits at their own private setting.
While everyone changed, relaxed and set up for the next set, I kept on taking pictures. This is when I captured the lifestyle moments.
I came out of the session feeling extremely great. Almost a year into my business, I often ask myself why I would pick up more tasks and responsibilities, especially on a part time basis and not really a source of major income. Like any business, mine should have a mission. But almost every photography business has a mission of “helping people to capture memories”. Can I do more than that? After this session I think I found my own mission. My mission is to help others with my skills. I have shared this vision with my VIP group members: “Professional Photography is a luxury good. Everyone deserves it but not everyone can afford it due to various reasons (time, energy, health, money…). Professional Photography is also an art – that can inspire and influence people. I love children, I support youth education, I am an advocate for seeking a cure for cancer, I believe in empowering women and helping local small businesses to thrive. There are so many different ways I can help by contributing my skills. I don’t need to be big and famous. Instead I will do my best with my small platform and hope one day, like minds will work with me together to make it bigger.” Through Piney’s session I am making my first step toward accomplishing my mission.
Many awesome news followed Piney’s session. Her latest blood work came back good and she is now enrolled in a public school program. I wish more great news to come. And let us continue to bring awareness to childhood cancer and to support finding a cure for cancer.
To follow Piney visit her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pineysposse/