In early May, my 86 year old father underwent major surgery to repair an aneurysm in his aorta. While the surgery was successful, sadly his recovery was not, and after a very brave and painful battle my father passed away on June 20th. My parents have always encouraged and supported me in every aspect of my life, and this project was no exception. They generously helped me both financially and emotionally on this journey, not just because they are my parents, but because they were both also cancer survivors. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1953 at age 25, she had cervical cancer in 1972 at age 43, she is now almost 83. My father had prostate cancer in 1993 at age 69, when he passed away at age 86 it was from a problem with his heart, not cancer. With my family history I always knew that one day I might be diagnosed with cancer, and because of that history I knew that I would most likely survive it.
Growing up during the great depression, my parents faced life’s challenges in the most practical and reasonable way possible, and they passed this onto their children. No need for hysteria or drama, life is what it is and you deal with what it gives you, the good and the bad. My father was also a veteran of WWII where he earned a purple heart, was captured and held as a German prisoner of War on Ile de Groix, France. He was one of a handful of prisoners exchanged during the war and immediately returned to serve on the front lines fighting for the freedoms and values that he believed most deeply in.
The day that my father died was the most surreal and strange day of my life. I went to visit him at the hospital about 6:30am on my way to work. My husband Chris had spent the night with my Dad at the hospital. I was so grateful that Chris was with him, he cared for him as if he were his own father. My father was heavily medicated and I spent about 1/2 hour with him, then kissed him on the head and began driving the 25 minutes to my studio. Just as I was pulling into the parking lot at work my phone rang, it was Chris telling me that my father passed away a few minutes after I had left his room. My family was as prepared as one can be for this, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. I had a shoot booked for that day with clients who had traveled quite far, 2 food stylists, art directors, account people, my family supported me by saying that honoring my commitment to my clients would not be dishonoring my father…thankfully everyone was extremely understanding and with my very dear friends working with me, we were able to shoot very quickly and I was with my family by 2:00pm.
That evening Chris and I had been invited to attend a gala dinner at the Pierre Hotel in New York City hosted by the American Cancer Society (ACS). It was the final event of a 3 day summit that brought together global cancer ambassadors and journalists from 44 countries to NYC to meet with their UN missions in advance of the first ever UN High Level Summit on Cancer to be held this September. 11 of these ambassadors were people that I had worked with over the past year through my project and had introduced to the ACS. At the beginning of the dinner my photos were to be featured in a slide show in the main dining room for the 500 guests in attendance. My family insisted that we attend, I knew that my father wanted us to be there too. So in the span of 12 hours, I experienced one of the worst moments of my life, losing my precious father that
morning, and then that evening, one of the most amazing moments of my life, knowing that I had done something that contributed to making a difference in the world. At the dinner were Shakti Gurung and Dr. Bijesh from Nepal, Poonam Bagai from India, Orajitt Bumrungskulswat from Thailand, Carol El-Jabari from Jerusalem, Suzan Murad from Jordan, Linda Greef from Cape Town, Elisabetta Iannelli from Italy, Dr. Thang from CanTho and Mrs Huong from Hanoi. And on the 2 huge screens in the front of the ballroom the faces of the incredible people that I had met over the last year were shown, and my father was one of those faces smiling down on all of us as we were seated for dinner. I know how proud he would have been that night. I know how proud I am to be his daughter, and how very much I love and miss him every day.