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. 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- 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

Paige_130924_5764

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.

Paige_130924_5830Paige_130924_5847Paige_130924_5773

 

 

Week 13 – Henna Tattoo SHOOT

Week 13 – Henna Tattoo Shoot

Photographed Week 9   9/13/2013

Photographer:  Owen Carey http://owencareyphoto.com  Henna Tattoo Artist Wendy Rover, Roving Horse Henna http://www.rovinghorse.com/

Henna Tattoo Shoot
Henna Tattoo Shoot

This shoot was done on one of my “bad” weeks, meaning just a few days after chemo.  I was exhausted during this shoot, but happy to be able to work with Owen and Wendy.  We planned this shoot during a bad week because I wanted to henna tattoo my head for Portland Fashion Week and that fell on that weekend.  The goal was to attend with part of the Kimberella team and my friend Tod Foulk, who was one of the founders.  I only had enough energy for one afternoon show, but it was worth it.  It was a curious two weeks while the head tattoo lasted.  As Wendy said it would, the henna was a gateway to allow others to ask about my bald head and cancer.  I had one woman run out after me in the bank and ask to look at it and take a photo.  The Race for the Cure in Portland was the same weekend and many women in the Survivors tent where I sat having breakfast (and crying with overwhelm) talked with me, saying they wish they had done something like that.

Photographer Owen Carey has been in my life for 26 years, since I was 18 years old and a young model trying to pay for college.  He was the first photographer I worked with in Portland when I moved here and the impression he made was huge.  I remember his kindness and genuine interest.  I never imagined I would someday also be a photographer.  Nearly 10 years after that I was in the middle of a new endeavor as a professional musician and needed a photo for the cover of my 2nd CD.  I again went to Owen for imagery.  When, at 38 I went out on my own as a photographer, yet another life adventure, and contacted Owen, who has guided me as a mentor and friend since then.  We now work in the same studio building and see one another often.

Email from Owen:

Just wanted to say thank you for putting your willingness, and your faith and trust in me, in all your strength, and in all your vulnerability.

Your quiet perseverance, beauty, intention and vision, looking cancer right in the eye, is inspirational.  Thank you for showing me that elegance and spirit that is so Kimberli – so Y.O.U. It was good to get to “play” with you for an hour and make new discoveries together.  To me, making art is all about “play” – and it is a process of discovery, so thank you for allowing me that gift.

I am honored to assist in this project – and would be happy to do it again as a means of supporting you throughout this process, as a healing, curative, spiritual, human endeavor, and to assist you in holding a mirror to the process of mastectomy and rebuilding and whatever comes next in the recovery process. May you live to be 100 and survive this cancer with many years of fulfillment yet to come. ( that’s not a death wish – “wishing you’d die at 100!” — hell I’ll be gone by then!)  LOL.

So thank you.

It amazes and saddens me that someone with such beautiful lovely breasts, (and yes, they are from the pix I just saw on your blog) be accosted by this insidious disease… or anyone for that matter- female or male – lovely – or not so pretty. I have known so many who also have suffered in this way – yet this is the first opportunity that I have been given to engage in such an artful and supportive process.  Most women tend to hide with cancer… and although our culture lends such importance to breasts, beauty – as you know, resides elsewhere, in the realm of the spirit. Superficial beauty is just that – superficial; so if you ever need a friend, a comrade photographer and co-conspirator in this fight with cancer, I am just upstairs and down the hall – and at your beck and call. who knows you might reconstruct  the breasts  to fill your clothes in an accustomed way – or keep the chest flat and have dragon tattoos made at the site of your surgery.

Beauty, as they say is in the eye of the beholder – and I might add in the spirit  as well – and that eye and spirit are yours to behold a new and cancer free spirit called Kimberli. Let me be a photographic partner in the process.

(Joni made some great images of you – I’m jealous.)

Sending you more hugs – and a whole lot of L.O.V.E.!

xoc

 

Week 12 – Red Lipstick

My grandmother, who passed away two years ago at the age of 98, (still living on her own, in red hair and red lipstick) always said, “Put your lipstick on.  You’ll feel better.” These are some of the photos that friends posted on Facebook in their own red lipstick.

Red Lipstick
Red Lipstick Facebook posts

Week 12 Poem 6 by Ken Arnold

Poem 6 by Ken Arnold

 

Gobsmacked by peacocks,

like a western sunset,

the flourishing of what’s

 

hidden. Who knew

those colors were there,

that the essence of everything

 

is fashion, the splendor

of feathers and purple

skin, diaphany

 

of the spheres: you

can hear her polyphonic

hues, and diaphonous

 

regard: she looks through

you and everything

you’ve carried, none of which

 

you need. Stop here,

as she has stopped, as time

has stopped, effusively.

 

Ken Arnold

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 9 – Poem 5 by Ken Arnold

Poem 5 by Ken Arnold

Update:  Ken is still recovering in a nursing home from MRSA virus.  Here’s his latest email and poem.  Thank you Ken.  We are all sending love your way.

—-

Kimberli,  For some reason I’m writing poems in this institution. Poem #5 is below. I find out tomorrow if I can leave here soon and resume chemo. It’s funny to want chemo, but it would be better than being cooped up here. I hope you’re ok after your emergency fluids.

This poem was occasioned by how wonderful your eyes were in some recent photos. I hope you like it.

Sending you much love,

Ken

—-

You have to love her eyes,

big gasping beauties

that can haunt you

 

over time, opened by

some ancient song of cele-

bration, as deep

 

as fairy tales,

easing out of the inner

dark the light. The light!

 

That’s what’s in her,

light. You can find her

in the dark, attenuated

 

as a long-gone memory,

gowned in white,

reverted to myth,

 

now pinned still

in the camera’s eye.

You’re almost afraid to look,

 

for she will see you

and see you and you will

fall into her story,

 

but your heart wants

to be her eyes,

to be seen, to see what she sees.

 

Because It’s Love is now available from Finishing Line Press:

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

 

“When late-life love and illness pounce and collide, they create a zone of tenderness, urgency, and fearless truthfulness. The work in Ken Arnold’s Because It’s Love is almost unbearably courageous, intense, and moving.”–Rachel Hadas, poet and author of The Golden Road, Ache of Appetite, and numerous other books of poetry and prose

 

read a new poem every Monday at

www.kenarnoldwriter.com