JennFBlog_001JennFBlog_002JennFBlog_003JennFBlog_004JennFBlog_005JennFBlog_006JennFBlog_007JennFBlog_008JennFBlog_009JennFBlog_010JennFBlog_011JennFBlog_012JennFBlog_013JennFBlog_014JennFBlog_015JennFBlog_016JennFBlog_017JennFBlog_018JennFBlog_019JennFBlog_020JennFBlog_021JennFBlog_022 Jenn contacted me in early July, to say that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and was wondering if I could squeeze in a family session before her treatment started. Of course we made it happen. And of course, when we did we created magic together. Because when kids are present with their parents, magic happens no matter what is going on behind the scenes.

This is not my first or even second session with a parent diagnosed with a life-altering illness. I hate that it is getting easier. It is such a mixed bag of emotions, both wishing I wasn' t having to do it (in that, I wish the cancer wasn't there in the first place), and feeling so enormously honored by the request. I love that I can do this for people, I feel incredibly lucky to have this job, and I also know it isn't about me. This isn't my story, or my illness, and my job is to observe and document for them. And I love, love, that despite the looming illness and treatments, and all the unknowns of the future, these children of ours are just children, they come as themselves with no worries on their shoulders, and they don't allow us to wallow, because they need us to do our jobs.

These sessions sometimes feel bigger than others, more important, maybe because of the immediate threat, but really none of us know what tomorrow will bring. I know I've said it before, and I know you've all read someone's blog post, Facebook status, that Huffington Post article, or maybe you saw this post by Deb Schwedhelm, and I probably don't need to say it again but I'm going to anyway: put yourself in the pictures. Can't swing it financially? Fine, just hand the camera off. Be documented with your children. Give them something to hold in their hands when they can't hold yours anymore, because whether that day comes next week or in 60 years, it will come.

Stepping down from my pedestal now.

xo, PQ



In August 2010 I received an email from Chelsea. We had met in a group for new moms at the hospital where our girls had been born just a few months apart; now they were turning three. We were in our mid-thirties, running our own businesses, living pretty similar lives. Except Chelsea was emailing because she had just been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer; her treatment was set to begin the following week. Chelsea wanted to know if I could come over and photograph her family before the treatment began. I don't know what Chelsea was thinking at the time, but I know that after reading about her type of cancer and it's advanced stage, I felt like I was going to their home to capture images of her with Eva and Thomas so they would have them to hold in their hands when they didn't have her any longer. I remember it being the first time I felt the profound importance of documenting families together. I remember Chelsea looking directly through the camera and past me, to who knows where. I remember the contrast between the enormous sadness I saw in her and Thomas's eyes, and the sheer joy of their daughter, gorgeously unaware of the ugliness life can throw at you.

As we were wrapping up our session, a friend brought them a meal; they ate blueberries on their porch, as we said our goodbyes. When I got in my car I sobbed with overwhelming sadness for Chelsea, the barrel she was staring down, and what that meant as a mother. I felt scared for Thomas, heartbroken for Eva, and I felt guilty for being so damn grateful that it wasn't me. But I knew that this wasn't my battle, or my time to grieve, I had something I could do. I had never before felt so lucky to have this gift to give.

More than two years later, Chelsea is stable, living with no evidence of the disease in her body. I had followed a personal blog she kept, so I knew that she had come out on the other side of intensive medical treatment still standing, and ready to make some changes in her life to support her ongoing healing process. I was thrilled when she contacted me in August about photographing her family again; This time I was going to capture all THREE of them happy, and together, alive and well.

Chelsea Harper, MA, BC-DMT, NCC, RYT is a counselor, dance/movement therapist, and yoga teacher.  Her business Moving to Balance offers workshops and retreats for young cancer survivors. Diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer at age 35, she is passionate about supporting young cancer survivors and their families to live well despite cancer.
xo, PQ


Update: Chelsea and another breast cancer survivor have teamed up and written a book for children who's mothers have been diagnosed with breast cancer. The book looks beautiful and fills a void in children's literature that sadly needs to be filled. But they need our help in getting a draft prepared to send to publishers. Please watch this video and consider a pledge to their Kickstarter campaign:

For Marty

Marty is a stay-at-home dad to five-year-old Claire. Carole works full-time at Powell's. The turtle is un-named and has been missing since our photo session last fall. 
Marty has been fighting cancer for two years. I will write and rewrite this post, edit, erase, second guess, etc., if I even attempt to put into words my fear of cancer as a parent. I think Marty read this on my face when he told me he was sick, for he quickly promised "don't worry, I won't die on you anytime soon," as if it was something he owed me. I have thought of that moment often, that he felt the need to comfort me. 
I will never be able to write what I truly want to say because I honestly am not sure how. My heart is so heavy for Marty, Carole and Claire, this family that I barely know, but feel enormous love for nonetheless. In the little time I have known Marty, he has proven to be a kick ass Papa to Claire: I have watched him fight exhaustion and nausea to be present with her. I have seen him pull from reserves of patience when mine would have been long gone. Spend a few minutes with them and you'll see that his love for Claire and her mama is beyond measure. I imagine this carries them through some dark days.
I am writing this post because Marty's friend Nena Rawdah, owner of the St Johns Booksellers, is hosting a benefit for Marty's family on Monday, March 12th, at 7:00 pm, at her book store (8622 N Lombard). The benefit is a slam poetry performance, featuring The Svelte Ms. Spelt (Angus Adair), with instant on-request poems written by Reuben Nisenfeld, and readings by Michelle Frost, and Ansel Appleton. I know little about poetry, slamming or otherwise, but I assure you this event will be a good time. There is a suggested donation of $5.00; you can read more about it here. If you can't be there you can still support Marty. Order books through their website,, from Sunday 3/11 through Saturday 3/17, and pay with a credit card. They will pass 1/3 of their profits from online sales during the week to Marty's wife, Carole Reichstein, to help with their ongoing expenses. Every new book or Google ebook they sell online during that time will benefit Marty and his family. (An important detail to note about their website ordering database: When selecting a book, please note whether the product page indicates that it will ship immediately. If your title says 'Special Order--Subject to Availability' it may be delayed or unavailable. And 'Out of print' means just that; it's in the database for information only. They encourage you to choose from the hundreds of thousands of titles that 'Ship within 1-5 days.'). If you attend the event and/or place an order through the bookstore, and you show me your receipt, I will give you an equal amount in print credit for a future photo session. But don't attend the event because of that, attend because any money you spend will help this beautiful hardworking family pay the ever-increasing bills caused by this illness.
Nena has known Marty for many years; as I struggled with writing this post today, I was messaging with her on Facebook and she said something about Marty that I will leave you with because it is both simple and powerful.
Marty believes, rightly I'm sure, that he couldn't have made it this far without determined and carefully cultivated optimism.