It's hard to put into words how much I enjoy photography and what a gift it has been to me in this season of my life.
I have always loved visual beauty, especially in design and photography. It's a passion I've had my whole life, but I never stopped to really pay attention until after what happened in 2008.
July, 15th 2008: My husband and I sit in my nurse practitioner's office, holding our breath. She enters the room looking somber, sits down, and says: “It's breast cancer.” I turn to look at my husband and he grabs my hand. His face is completely blank. He blinks back at me.
So began a journey I could never have imagined: appointment after appointment, blood draws, injections, surgeries, chemo treatments, pills, pills, and more pills, x-rays, cat scans, MRIs, mouth sores, bandages, radiation treatments, visual migraines, nausea, steroids, losing my hair, choosing a wig, choosing an oncologist, asking for prayer, and (excuse me), having my breast poked, prodded, smashed, sliced, injected, stitched, and burned.
What a surreal experience. And, of course, the good news is that I'm here nearly six years later to write about it. A person can never really remain the same after surviving cancer. I've written about it before in my personal blog, but facing your mortality is frightening and empowering at the same time.
A year later, I finished treatment (shown left, leaving Swedish Hospital after my last chemo treatment), and realized that I could not go back to my “normal” life. Nothing was the same, at least inwardly. I had a new appreciation for the fact that life is not a drill. That trip I had always wanted to take? Better think about taking it.
Chief among my new perspectives was the feeling that I wanted my life to be about relationships more than anything else. Sure, we all know that instinctively, but do we really live our lives that way? Trivial pursuits just didn't matter anymore. You know, things like decorating my home, wearing the latest fashions, having just the right hairstyle. Nothing wrong with those things, but I no longer received any kind of satisfaction from them.
It was at this time that I decided to pursue my teaching certificate in visual communications. I had already owned a freelance graphic design business and was working as a public relations (PR) specialist for a large public school district. Teaching high school kids graphic design seemed like the best of both worlds. I could share my passion for visual beauty with a new generation. I had something to offer and leave behind, you might say. Yeah, that's it. Leave a legacy.
It took me a year. I got my teaching certificate, subbed for a marketing teacher who was on a leave of absence, gained some teaching experience, and started applying for jobs. In the fall of 2010, I was hired for my first teaching job as a marketing and career choices instructor. (Turns out that visual communications teachers have great gigs and rarely leave their positions, so I took the next best thing.)
That year, I worked my butt off under circumstances that were far less than ideal. (Although I sincerely loved my students, shown right with one of my marketing stars). I won't go into the gory details, but at the end of the year, I was “RIF'd” (reduction in force), due to state budget cuts. Later, when they found more money in the budget, I was offered half of my job back, but I turned it down since it involved a commute and I felt the part-time money wasn't going to be enough to make the commute worthwhile.
I started collecting unemployment and looking for another full-time teaching job. As the weeks (and job applications) rolled on (and on and on and on), I began to realize that finding another job wasn't going to be as easy as I had expected, especially in this economy. Weeks turned into months. I began to get depressed.
I managed to land an interview for a job in public relations, with the potential to work for a growing company with a fabulous reputation. I had given up looking for a teaching job. It was apparent during the PR job interview that I could easily perform the job and I was way over-qualified (and therefore, would require more money than they wanted to pay). We both realized it and I didn't get the job.
So began the Great Depression of 2011. What, you didn't hear about it?
One day during this time, I set up a lunch date with an old friend and PR mentor from my previous job. While we were chatting over our salads, I told him that friends had suggested I start up my graphic design business again. “But my heart just isn't in it,” I said.
From there, the conversation took a turn and the next thing I knew, he began telling me of how he was offered $1,500 to create a slideshow for a business in Seattle. He had to turn down the offer, as he “just didn't have time to do it.”
“What?” I asked incredulously. “You mean, people are willing to pay you that much for a slideshow?”
“Yeah,” he shrugged.
Well, I had made slideshows for years and loved it. I guess you could say it was a passion of mine from way back. It had never occurred to me that I could do it for other people--and for money!
On the drive home, my mind was racing. The next morning, I actually wanted to get out of bed.
I'm a researcher at heart. I began researching . . . and researching . . . and researching. Everything from business names to slideshow businesses to licenses and logos. A kernel of an idea had begun to spring forth: Bella Vita Creative. I would combine my design expertise with slideshows.
Over the next few months, I spent literally hundreds and hundreds of hours pulling my business idea together. I called people on the other side of the country for business advice. I researched and designed my logo. I designed my website. I purchased new software. And lots more.
I decided to create a prototype slideshow using wedding photos from someone I knew, just to demo my abilities. The couple and their wedding photographer were more than happy to oblige, since I would be providing a free slideshow and crediting the photographer as well.
Then it occurred to me: I would have to get permission from every single photographer for every slideshow I made, in order to use their photos.
What happened next was my “Woo Woo Moment.” I swear an angel chorus faintly sang in the background while a shaft of heavenly light illuminated me from head to toe: “Hey! What if I take the photos? Yeah, that's the ticket!”
Why didn't I think of it before? I loved photography and, in fact, had done quite a bit of it while performing my duties as a public relations person. What the what?!
The rest, as they say, is history.
I was just getting ready to have my business cards printed and decided, more or less on a whim, to print “Photography and Multimedia Slideshows” on the cards.
Would people really pay me to take their photographs?
Since that day, I have been blessed beyond my wildest imagination to take many photographs and, indeed, be paid to do so.
I truly believe that none of this would have ever happened if I hadn't experienced breast cancer and the resulting awareness that I wanted to do something different with my life.
I've done my best to lay out the events as they happened over time and, of course, everything is much clearer with hindsight. I've left out many, many details that helped point the way toward my becoming a photographer.
I wasn't looking for it. It was as if Someone opened the door and I, looking around and behind me, thought, “What if?”
I won't lie to you—it took some courage to get this far. I was scared to death (and sometimes still am). But my heart's desire is fulfilled every time I help someone leave their own legacy to their children and grandchildren through the gift of photography.
And here's what I've learned after having experienced breast cancer and many other things since then: acting courageously doesn't mean that you're not afraid. It simply means that you move forward in spite of your fear.
Put one foot in front of the other, trust God, and see what's on the other side. You might be surprised.