Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays!

I just updated the Shutter Sweet blog with a post and wanted to share with you a few thoughts and updates as we approach the holidays and enter a new year.

This past month, I've been able to help out with a non-profit organization called Help-Portrait where I was able to donate my time and talent to help those less fortunate to give them portraits for Christmas. Last Sunday, I was able to help another family with their holiday portraits, but this story is a little more personal...

I learned about the Hill family through our church. Kevin, the dad of two young children and wife to Rachel, was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma cancer this past year. Some moms put together a care package for them and delivered it to the hospital as they were going through one of their treatments.

I knew I wanted to help, but waited to introduce myself as I knew sometimes the support could come in waves and there might be times that they needed some help later on... After a few messages to the moms group at our church, I introduced myself to Rachel and told her about our family battle with skin cancer and offered to help any time and in any way I could.

Right after I was born, my mom had a cancerous melanoma that had to be cut out of her back - no joke, it was a huge portion of her back they removed before they were able to get it all out. A lot of my family on my mom's side has dealt with cancerous moles. My first pre-cancerous mole was in 8th grade when I noticed a mole on my hand was changing shape and pointed it out to my mom.  I had it biopsied and had to get a little bit more cut out with a few stitches since they didn't get it all the first time. Since then, I have had over 40 pre-cancerous moles removed and over 15 wide-excisions (bigger portions removed with stitches of various sizes). Over 10 of the pre-cancerous moles and three of those wide-excisions have taken place in the last month, crazy, I know. I wouldn't describe myself as a mole-covered person, but the ones I do have turn deadly and new ones grow every year as more are removed.

A brief lesson in moles: When a mole is cut off and sent to the lab for a biopsy, it can come back benign (nothing is wrong with it) or a-typical (abnormal cells that could develop into cancer if left alone). There are varying degrees of a-typia from mild, moderate and severe. Most of mine are mild to moderate because I catch them so early, but a few (and one this past month) have been severe, which is the last stage before it turns into cancer. All of the moderate to severe ones I end up having a wide-exicision to remove more. There are different types of skin cancer as well and named after the type of cell they arise from (like melanoma, basal-cell and squamous cell). Melanoma is known for being the most deadly and usually take the form of flat dark moles. Don't google pictures because you will get the most extreme pictures and they are not helpful. Just go to the dermatologist for a skin exam and they will let you know if there is anything to be concerned about.

Kevin had a mole on his face for a long time and never thought anything about it. He accidentally cut it shaving one day and it wouldn't stop bleeding so he went to get it checked out and that's how he found out he had skin cancer. It had already started to spread so they cut a major portion of his face and neck to remove as much as they could, but it was too late. He's gone through numerous treatments and procedures to try and fight it. When I was talking to him about it, he told me that he wish his general doctor would have mentioned getting a skin exam in his annual physical. As a male, he had never been to the dermatologist and didn't even think to go for a "check up" when he didn't have a history of anything.

Kevin and his family have been fighting this thing full force since they found out and it's been exhausting. I empathize with them because I know how draining it is to fight with everything you have despite the grim statistics. I know what it is like to look someone you love in the face and know that you might not have another day with them. I know what it is like to deal with medical insurance, bills, other crappy situations that all seem to add up and make you feel like throwing in the towel. I also know what it is like to have an amazing community surround you and help you carry the burden. I know what it is like to rely on your faith and keep hope to survive.

Thankfully, Kevin and Rachel go to the same church we do and have an amazing support system in place through their neighborhood in Atlanta and family as well. This past weekend I was able to photograph them for a family session and it was amazing. It was cold, rainy and traffic put us an hour behind schedule so we were losing our light, but it was so perfect for their story. We had fun despite the conditions and ended up with some great shots! Below is one of my favorites... The rest are on the Shutter Sweet Photography blog along with more of their story, which you can also read in depth on their blog here.

After the photo shoot, I was thinking about hope. Hope usually arises out of dark places. For me, hope has been in the forefront of my mind as I think about advent and the coming of Christ. I have hope that there is purpose to this life and more to experience after my body dies. I have hope that there is good that comes out of the evil and suffering around us. The death and darkness of this world can be overwhelming sometimes, and is recognized after tragedy and loss like what was experienced last weekend in Connecticut that was felt around the world. I am so glad we were made for more and my soul knows it or else I would be a much more depressed and less functional person! 

As the holidays approach, I've been trying to take time to sit and be still. Forcing myself to quiet my mind and not to run to my email as soon as my feet hit the floor has been a challenge, but one I hope to turn into a daily practice. I've taken time to be thankful and re-focus on what's important - not the busy hustle of the holidays, but how I can celebrate with others in their joys and share in the burdens of others this holiday season and love those around me.

I know a lot of families who are suffering during this season. One SMA child lost his dad in a car accident, while several more SMA children have passed away in the last month not to mention the families who lost their children in the school shooting and other tragedies taking place around the world. Many of us have welcomed the reminder that we're not guaranteed another day and have held the ones we love a little closer the past few weeks. I hope that the holiday seasons are spent with the people you love. My hope is that we can stop focusing on presents and return back to the season of hope and love - hope in a savior that humbly came into this world as an example to us all on how to love unconditionally. Hope in a God who loves us so much that he was willing to come into this world of sin to bear ALL of our burdens so that we would be restored. Hope in the Lord who grieves with us at the grave of loved ones, celebrates with us in times of joy and comforts us in times of need.

Peace, Comfort and Joy to you and yours this holiday season wherever you may find yourself. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!