I sat in my car for about an hour before I started this session and for about an hour after it was done. There were tears during both of those times alone in the car. There was prayers and questions and fear and gratitude. I knew without doubt that this was maybe the most important session I would ever photograph. That beautiful family up there – those are my friends. Jaimee, the mama, has been my friend since elementary school. She was my roommate in college, she was the person who made me laugh hardest, she was the person who most often called me on my shit, she expected the best of me and I never wanted to let her down. She married my pal Brian, what?, sixteen or seventeen years ago (I’m bad with numbers) and they built this beautiful family. A family that was hard won, and much loved and so wanted. Jaimee was pregnant with their last baby, Sophie, when I was pregnant with my first. I photographed Sophie as a newborn as my Lauren kicked inside my swollen belly. Jaimee is one of my people. She is the person who will show up when you really need someone to show up. She will make you laugh and let you cry and basically just be one of the best people you’ll ever know. She is wonderful. So when she emailed me in June to tell me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and she was starting chemo and would have a mastectomy my heart broke. I said a lot of swear words in the quiet of my office, I cried with disbelief and immediately called Jill so we could work this out together, because it was always the three of us in high school, and that’s the only way this would make sense. We all went out to breakfast the next morning – four friends trying not to draw too much attention to themselves as they vacillated between peels of laughter and holding in sobs. While we sat at that table trying to wrap our brains around the situation, the fact that at 38 we were already here – one of us was sick – it was there that Jaimee asked if I’d take her family portraits before the chemo started. “Oh, yes,” I answered. “It’s the only gift I have to give.” So a few days later, the day after she had her chemo port put in, I sat in my car around the corner from her house and cried and prayed to do good work. And then I bravely knocked on the door and put my camera to my face and gave her the only gift I have ever been good at giving. I only almost cried once – when Jaimee was sitting on her daughters bed, her girls flanking her. They closed their eyes and snuggled into her but she looked right at me through my lens. I felt my heart in my throat and tears sting my eyes. But we pushed on, we laughed and giggled and made memories with this beautiful family she and Brian made. And it was a good night. I didn’t look at the pictures when I downloaded the card. I sent off the film right away and then kept on with the every day of life. Jaimee started chemo. When she was up to it we went on morning walks. Finally, the film scans came in. I cried again, because my prayers were answered. I had done good work by her. I had given her the only gift I had to give and it was what she needed. Jaimee had many weeks of chemo and surgery ahead of her. I don’t imagine this is going to get easier. But I hope, on nights when the fight is hard and the she is battle worn, she will see these photos in her mind and know how well she has done, how beautiful the family she made is and how much they, and I, love her.
[…] aren’t even 40 y’all! And going through this at this age has been eye opening. When I photographed Jaimee’s family before she started chemo I was a mess of emotion. I was so worried about getting images that […]