A Day in the Studio SHOOT – Work & breast cancer

Photography by Paige Stoyer.  Part of her Real Thing series following my treatment.  Photographed on Nov. 14, 2013.  4 days prior to surgery.  Post written Dec. 9, 2013

I love my photography studio.  I love the grain of the wood on the floors, the brick walls, the four huge windows that flood the room with morning light.  I love the old storage building that hosts 25 studios including mine, full of creative people, a leaky roof and a red freight elevator.  I love that the dogs who come to work with their owners always run up the stairwell and into my studio, the first one, during the summer when the doors are flung wide open to let in the draft cool flow through the space.  My work as a photographer, my 800 sq ft studio and the variety of who and what I get to photograph each week center me, ground me, make me feel connected to the community and myself.  It’s difficult to remove myself from my studio and work while I focus on healing.  Although I did work some during chemotherapy, maybe 1 or 2 clients at the end of every two week cycle, I was not in my studio on a regular basis.  I was simply not strong enough to work except on the very last few days of each cycle when the chemo side effects would fade.  It was almost impossible to predict when I would feel strong enough for clients and the few I did work with were really generous in working around my fatigue and occasional rescheduling.  I have not worked since this photo shoot over 3 weeks ago while I’ve been recovering from surgery.

This photo shoot was done during the one week I did work a full week.  I had 4 weeks to heal between my final chemo treatment before my surgery. I needed all 4 weeks, but by the last one I decided I also needed the sanity of my being in my studio and absolutely had to make some money.  I put on my lipstick, called back clients who had been waiting for me and put out my welcome mat.  This particular shoot was for Flowers in Flight, an amazing floral shop in downtown Portland.  I am fortunate enough to be doing their product photography for a brand new website and for 4 days my studio was full of fresh floral designs each morning.  I would shoot and edit, then Lily Hutchins would select her favorites, bring in a new cart full of designs and take back the previously photographed ones.  Over the past 8 years in business I have really become more of a portrait than product photographer.  However,  I love product as well and was so grateful to photograph flowers that stood still, took minimal lighting and did not need entertaining. Children and families, although great fun and wonderfully distracting (no time to think of yourself) are much more difficult to photograph than flowers.  Paige Stoyer followed me during one of these days.

Working in photography studio 3 weeks after chemo.
Working in photography studio 3 weeks after chemo.


Finances:  The following images show the other side of being self-employed and single during cancer.   While I have the ability to be flexible with my schedule there is no back up.  No disability pay or insurance.  No one to be me when I can’t work.  As a family photographer I make 1/2 of my income around the holiday season.  I’ve missed all of it this year and wonder what will get me through the slow months of winter and early spring.  My bookkeeper, Marian Lucas, happened to drop in to pick up the bills during the floral product shoot and Paige captured the thoughts written on my face.  Marian now does not only my studio bookkeeping, but also my home and medica,l which is a nightmare to organize and track as anyone going through major medical treatment knows.  I am fortunate to have had health insurance at the time of my diagnosis.  The bills currently come to over $100,000 and I’m not finished.  My out of pocket for this year is $5000.  My insurance will go away in 21 days, at the end of the year, and I still have no idea what my next coverage, some type of ObamaCare, will be as the website is down and it’s taking up to 45 days to process written applications.  The stress of seeing both my studio accounting as well as my medical bills shows in these images.  I feel like I’m always 2 seconds from tears when it comes to finances right now.  However, my first thought always has to be on healing.  I can only do so much to bring in money right now and it will somehow work itself out once I am working full-time again.  I try to believe this and repeat it to myself often.  I’m grateful I took the advice of money people and had backup savings to live on for a few months.  I’ve needed it all.

Meeting with bookkeeper 3 weeks after chemo.  Stress.
Meeting with bookkeeper 3 weeks after chemo. Stress.


The end of the day.  I’m tired, worried, happy, content….  So many things in one face and two photos.  It has now been three weeks since I’ve been able to work in my studio (I’m post surgery as I write this) and I miss my wood floors, brick walls and morning light.  It will be another few weeks before I am able to lift anything in order to work and move my lights around, although I hope to call on couple of friends to assist with some product work before then.  I needed a second surgery, which I will write about later, that has delayed my healing process some.  I don’t know how the reconstruction “inflation,” which begins tomorrow, or the radiation, which begins in January, will effect my ability to work.  I’m hopeful physical therapy, good food and some more rest will have me back in the studio playing and making a living again before too long.


Only week of studio work.  Feeling both happy about being in the studio and worried about the cancer, upcoming surgery and finances.
Only week of studio work. Feeling both happy about being in the studio and worried about the cancer, upcoming surgery and finances.