Tranquility SHOOT 11/11/13

Tranquility

Photographer Duane Bolland, Assistant Jennie Baker, Makeup Artist Betty Rae Daugherty Wiant.  Photographed Nov. 11, 2013

This shoot was done Nov. 11, 2013, three weeks after my final chemo treatment and one week prior to my surgery date.  I was still very fatigued from chemo, had neuropathy in my feet and was nervous about the 4 week interim between chemo, when I knew the cancer was not spreading, and surgery when I knew the tumor would be removed. I was trying to center myself and control my thoughts during this time.  As you can see, my hair was beginning to grow back as duck fuzz.  Duane told me he had a last minute idea to have me sit on the couch Buddha style and be calm, tranquil.  Tranquility was what I needed, perhaps more than what I was actually feeling.  I do not meditate often, so I have have no idea if these poses are true to form.  This, like many of the Finding Beauty in Cancer shoots, was about taking on a persona and playing. Finding some beauty.  This was an important shoot in that it was the final one before the bilateral mastectomy where my breast would be removed.  I wanted to have it to remember in the event my new breasts look drastically different.  Duane, Jennie and I talked about several styles of lighting and posing, but kind of let it happen organically once we started.  Betty Rae added her input on costuming and poses as well.  The reporter from The Oregonian, Katy Maldoon, was with us for the entire session, which was fun for me and perhaps a little nerve wracking for Duane.  He did a fabulous job, however, and I’m so pleased to have these beautiful images of my breast before surgery.  These are really the final images of Boobies 1.o, as my step son says; my newly reconstructed ones will be Boobies 2.o.

Tranquility Duane Bolland
Tranquility Duane Bolland
Tranquility2 Duane Bolland
Tranquility2 Duane Bolland

And a fun one from Behind the Scenes

 Tranquility Behind the Scenes

Tranquility Behind the Scenes

 

 

Pre-Op. Plastic Surgery SHOOT

11/16/13

My decision to have a bilateral mastectomy, as well as reconstruction at the same time, has been neither easy nor clear.  I have struggled with the surgical options available to me and what’s best in the big picture.  I have struggled with exactly when and what type of reconstruction to have.  Now, later, silicone, my own tissue?  I’ve discussed, read and had extra meetings with my surgeons.  I’ve weighed the pros and cons, cried the tears and wrestled with what I think is best for me long term versus what would be easier for me short term.  I’ve met other women making different choices:  bilateral mastectomy with no reconstruction, single mastectomy with reconstruction, lumpectomy…  We are all different.  I may write more on my options and decision making later.  Right now it’s a bit of a blur as I’ve made my decisions and need to move forward with them as I prepare for Monday.

Paige Stoyer photographed this pre-surgery consultation with my plastic surgeon Dr. Shannon O’Brien as part of her continued “The Real Thing” documentary series.  Shot Week 16 of chemo, Oct 29, 2013

Plastic Surgery Consultation
Plastic Surgery Consultation

 

Week 16. Hard Candy SHOOT

Shot week 14

Hard Candy. Part of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” sessions by

Photographer:  Raina Stinson./ Henna Tattoo Artist: Ana Warren / Makeup Artist: Justine Verigin / 1st Assistant: Alan Thornton /  2nd Assistant:  Constance Spurling  Videographer: Erik Schultz for Hooplaha

Hard Candy, the concept that we can play with sugar and spice and all the nice, easy breezy aspects of life in a photo shoot when the other part of life, cancer, is so hard.  It’s the flip side of what I’m actually going through.  This beautiful, joyful, pink shoot full of sugar and laughter is a break, a release, a reprieve from chemotherapy and how difficult parts of life are right now.   It is really what this project is about.  Finding beauty in something that doesn’t always feel or look beautiful.  It’s why we need support in funding a book and gallery show to share the work with a wider audience and inspire others.  Donate here.    Continued below…

Hard Candy
Hard Candy

When photographer Raina Stinson approached me about doing a shoot for the Finding Beauty in Cancer project and told me about her series called, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” I jumped on the opportunity.  I had recently purchased a piece of her work and wanted to meet her anyhow.  What perfect timing, I thought, and what a good opportunity to collaborate with her creative mind.  The session was both fun and exhausting.  It was shot the weekend before my last round of chemo.  I was as fatigued and low as I would be and had trouble sitting for the makeup and henna let alone the shoot.  I faked it until I was actually laughing and kept it going from there.  The team of creatives was amazing.  All of them helped me though, from keeping me supplied with water and snacks to putting my shoes on for me.  I was literally shaking from exhaustion after 4 hours, but happy to have done it.  Cancer is hard, and yet there are moments of pink, sugar and laughter in between.

Week 16. Acupuncture SHOOT

Week 16. The Real Thing:  Acupuncture.  Shot Week 15

Since the beginning of chemotherapy I’ve been receiving weekly acupuncture through IEP (Immune Enhancement Program).  They offer low cost traditional medicine and have a special program for people with cancer.  I’ve also received Shiatsu (acupressure) and met with a naturopathic doctor there.  In all honesty, I have no idea if it helps. Chemo make you sick.  When you feel sick with new side effects all the time, how do you know if something has made you better or not?  I feel sick, I go to acupuncture and feel somewhat better and relaxed during the treatment then I go home and feel sick again.  I like thinking that I’m doing something proactive to help my body.  I like thinking that the herbs and supplements make me stronger and ready to take the next rounds so I can get rid of cancer.  In reality, I don’t know but I keep going.

Acupuncture for cancer
Acupuncture for cancer

 

Week 16. Chemo Recovery SHOOT

The Real Thing – Chemo Recovery.  Shot week 12

Photographer:  Paige Stoyer

These photos show my real world most days during chemotherapy.  The recovery period lasted most of the two-week cycle until the next treatment.  I want to be active, go to work, have my life back.  However, the flood of drugs in my body and brain say otherwise.  I do what I can and what I need to do.  I lay on my couch, tell my cat she’s cute, eat so I can take more pills.  Pills, pills, pills.  Every few hours,  I eat so I can take more pills. Anti-nausea pills, herbal pills, pills for pain, pills to sleep…  I turn all the lights on so my house is bright even when I am not.  I avoid the stacks of paperwork on my kitchen table: bills, applications, copies of blood work and appointments.  I worry about the papers and bills I’m avoiding, but can’t wrap my chemo brain around them. I sit up and turn on my laptop to connect to friends on Facebook or think about the next photo shoot.  On the days when I am not too dizzy or nauseated I go outside, ride my bike around the neighborhood, feel the air on my face.  I think about how the context for exercise, as well as most other things in my life, has changed.  How little accomplishments mean something now.  I try not to measure this time by the same standards I had a few months ago.

Chemo Recovery
Chemo Recovery

 

Week 16 – Cancer Reflected SHOOT

Week 16, Cancer Reflected.  Photographed Week 12

I asked photographer Bill Purcell and makeup artist Lily Hutchins to collaborate on a session and left the concept completely open.  Via email they both began down this path of the emotions of cancer and my feelings during chemotherapy written in red lipstick and shown on a mirror, as if I were in my dressing room staring them in the face.  I was right on board with their ideas.  They asked me to write down what it felt like, perhaps after each treatment or in stages.  My writing was full of every emotion, many contradictory.  For example, overwhelm and acceptance.  Some expected, like “angry, worried, frustrated.”  Some were perhaps not expected, but more relatable: “joyful, playful, interested.”  Yet others were more unexpected and those were the words Bill wanted to go with.  They were not what he thought he might feel if he had cancer and therefore more complex to understand.  I liked that this deeply empathetic man wanted to go deeper into the nuances of emotions cancer has brought up for me.

Cancer Reflected
Cancer Reflected

The set was constructed in my studio, using the space like it’s never been used before.  Both Bill and videographer Dan Sadowsky came in with props three hours prior to the shoot to set the stage and create the perfect lighting.  A heavy desk and several lamps where brought up the red door freight elevator and rolled across the long wooden floors into the studio to design this set.  Since Bill would be shooting into a mirror to get my reflection what was behind him mattered and would be in the shots.  His positioning, to stay out of the image, as well as a second set and lighting behind him, was important. Technically, this was a difficult shoot.  Bill’s forethought and preparation as well as the assistance of Dan, Lily and my mother, helped bring all the abstract details together.

Whereas many of the other Finding Beauty in Cancer shoots have been “pretty” fantasy style concepts, Bill wanted his shoot to be darker.  I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of showing this side at first, but then realized that by being more vulnerable with all of my emotions someone else might be helped in their process or in understanding what a loved one is going through. Cancer has been a bit of all emotions for me.  I don’t want to deny the fact that I feel afraid and in despair, yet I try not to stay in those places longer than I need to.  I try to move through them to a place that is more beneficial to me.  I want to be happy most of the time, but I feel all of it regardless of what I want.  Knowing that I will transition from the darker emotions, that “this too shall pass,” helps me keep moving forward.

 

 

Week 15 – Octopus SHOOT

Week 15 – The Octopus Shoot, Photographed Week 10. I’m under the sea, on the bottom of the ocean floor.  I’m resting there, face up, when the octopus comes out of his hole and wraps himself around my body placing a shell over my right breast.  I know it’s there as protection.  He’s protecting me….  (continued below)

See more below. Becca Blevins Photography, Matthew Mattison,  Kirstie Wright Makeup Artist.   See Behind the Scenes post for information on the artists.

Octopus Shoot Becca Blevins Matthew Wheeler

The water pulses against my body with the “bang, bang, bang” rhythm of sonar waves.  Sonar waves, if I’m the whale or fish, I imagine.  MRI noise if I’m in my own reality.  I’m actually lying in a great white metal machine.  One that, if I stay still for 45 minutes, will scan my body and tell me if the cancer has spread beyond my breast and lymph nodes.  This is the time before I started chemo, days when I wondered, as I still do some days now, whether the cancer has taken root elsewhere.  It’s nerve-wracking to wait.  Wait on test results for answers to your life.  Never mind it’s a weekend or holiday.  Nerve wracking to wait on the “bang, bang, bang” of the machine and so begin to imagine myself hearing what the fish and whales must hear under the sea.  I meditate on the rhythm and dream of what they must hear.  My body drives through the water and then finally settles upon the ocean floor where I meet my octopus.  He holds me safe and I wait with him until the banging stops, then slowly rise to the surface as he dissolves into my body.  I know immediately, this must be one of my Finding Beauty in Cancer Shoots.

Week 15 – Octopus shoot. Behind the Scenes

Week 16 – Octopus shoot Behind the Scenes.  Photographed Week 10

Behind the Scenes:  This was absolutely one of my favorite sessions, both because the artists involved were so fun, but also due to my attachment to the original concept.  I envisioned my meditation being physically created on the Oregon coast and was able to articulate it to the creatives.  They in turn ran with it and made it amazing.  First I called Matthew Mattison.  “Matthew, you don’t know me, but I know one of your clients.  He has an octopus tattoo.”  I proceeded to tell him about the Finding Beauty in Cancer project as well as the meditation, which was partially inspired by his tattoo.  “I’m in,” he said.  “You can have any Thursday, my day off.”  Amazing generosity and so much raw talent.  He literally took an ink pen and freehanded the “tattoo” onto me before painting it in with children’s face paints.  Next I contacted Becca Blevins as I knew her dynamic wedding photography and could see her creating something dramatic at the Oregon coast.  “Yes,” was her immediate answer.  Then I contacted Kirstie Wright, my favorite local make up artist, to add the finishing touches.  Perfect!  The four of us, along with my good friend and sometimes photo assistant, Leisl Stientjes, traveled to Manzanita and the home of my new friend and client, Susan Sanderson, where I was gracefully laid out on the kitchen table and painted.  As the afternoon light began to fade, Matthew and Kirstie applied the last of their color and we flew down the highway (wrapped in a shower curtain) toward Arcadia Park.  The sun was setting as we ran toward the low tide.

Octopus Shoot Behind the Scenes

Week 14 – Poem 7 by Ken Arnold

Poem 7 by Ken Arnold

They arrive, the chemo tears,

yours and mine,

summer rain in Autumn,

 

can’t stop them, don’t want them,

but oh for the release,

remembrance of those

 

days when tears meant

something, not this chemical

discharge, this effluent

 

waste, but when we were

ourselves, our bodies

overwhelmed by joy, by love,

 

what flew through us

hot sun and ocean,

another’s lovely body.

 

The tears recall us.

Let memory cleanse

the face of our return.

 

Because It’s Love, my new book of love poems, is now available from

Finishing Line Press:

https://finishinglinepress.com/product_info.php?cPath=4&products_id=1856

 

read a new poem every Monday at

www.kenarnoldwriter.com

 

and the long poem in progress, Chemo Brain, at

http://kenarnoldwriter.wordpress.com/

 

Week 14- The Real Thing SHOOT. Photographer Paige Stoyer

Week 14- The Real Thing.  By international documentary photographer Paige Stoyer during Week 11 treatment 6.

I feel these images are fitting this week.  I’m at my lowest point both mentally and physically and, whereas most of the shoots have been fun, fantasy-style sessions, this shoot was documentary style showing a real day of chemo.  I currently feel the way I look in these images.  Concerned, exhausted and unsure what the future holds or if I’m strong enough to keep moving forward into more treatments that make me feel terrible.  I only have 3 weeks of chemo left, and yet it seems impossible to see the end when I’m in pain right now.  The thought of upcoming surgery, reconstruction and radiation feels like more than I can handle. Paige’s images capture some real emotions from both her and my perspective and I’m grateful to her for showing us this side of ‘beauty’ within fear and sadness.  Kimberli

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Writing & photography by Paige Stoyer. I was thrilled with the opportunity to work with my friend and fellow photographer Kimberli Ransom, to document the real day-to-day experience of her fight with breast cancer.

It is an act of trust to be allowed into these very real and difficult moments of her life and a show of her bravery to be willing to open up this way to the world.

I think we sometimes feel we have to protect people from the difficult stuff, the reality of battling cancer, of being sick.  We strive to put on a happy face for everyone, to show how tough we are.

But being strong doesn’t mean you don’t also feel vulnerable, scared and overwhelmed. The range of emotions that accompany a battle like this are staggering and unpredictable, changing from moment to moment.

I know this first hand from having walked this path with my mom during her battle with leukemia.  That has allowed me to have a connection with Kimberli about her journey, and though everyone experiences illness differently, to have at least some idea of what this is like for her.

Shooting this project has really taken me back to moments with my mom, being in the hospital with her for chemo and being in her house surrounded by the towering piles of medical paperwork that makes an already overwhelming situation even more daunting.

It is rewarding to know that while I will sometimes take a certain shot based on my own experiences, as we all do, when I show the image to Kimberli, it often resonates with her as well.  That’s why Kimberli’s project is so important, because so many cancer patients and survivors will be able to relate to her moments.

Like the feeling of walking down those many cold and sterile hallways on your way to your next treatment or appointment.

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I took the shot below because it reminded me of the feeling of being in the hospital for hours and days on end, where your life has largely come to a grinding halt and most things you do now revolve around this battle you are in.  Your world looks completely different now, but outside things go on as usual, the drumbeat of day-to-day life.  I distinctly remember during my Mom’s illness and before I went in for a surgery myself for a brain aneurysm a few years ago, looking out the window and feeling a disconnect from the world that was moving along outside.  Realizing that everyone else was going about their life as they always had, but you were inside this hospital, with everything riding on this surgery or this treatment.  We all go about our lives as if we are invincible and you just never know when your life will change in a moment.

The flip side to that is that when you come out the other side and are able to go on with your life, you will probably never take the day-to-day routine for granted in the same way again.

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This photo is about the way you look at each treatment and the people who are caring for you.  You wonder will this drug do the trick, is this the one that is going help me win this war?  And how is it going to make me feel, what will my body do with this drug in it, will I have a bad reaction to it?  You look to treatments with such hope and dread all at the same time.

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You develop special relationships with the people who administer the drugs and help you navigate the medical maze, and your doctors who see you week in and week out, because you literally are putting your life in their hands.

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Those shared moments of humor help you get through.

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This one speaks to me about Kimberli and who she is.  At the end of the day here she is looking right at us, showing us her both her strength and vulnerability and that she doesn’t intend to hide away but is facing this head on and asking us to come along on the journey with her.

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As an artist I suppose there is a willingness and even a need, to explore these difficult and complicated aspects of our lives and our experiences, for Kimberli and I this is an opportunity to do this together.

 

I hope in our collaboration I am able to capture some moments that will help her to tell her story.

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