At the crack of dawn on Saturday the 16th December 2017, I received a call from a friend of mine, Kerry, who in a small panic explained that a good friend of hers, Belinda, (whom I knew of) was part of a shoot for a maternity/family shoot for a local magazine up near Tala and the photographer for the project was unfortunately unable to shoot as she had fallen terribly ill.
I was super keen to help out as what REALLY got me from the get go was the fact that the shoot was for a lady who had cancer and the magazine wanted to tell her story and that of her daughter who was pregnant with her first child.
After Kerry finished explaining the whole situation all I said was, "Kerry - you had me at - Mom has cancer - what time do they need me?" A few minutes later I received a call from Belinda who was the hair stylist for the shoot who filled me in on the nitty gritty details of the shoot regarding times etc.
After a quick gear check - I got ready and headed off to meet Belinda and the rest of the team. The whole shoot was organised by a lady/stylist called Lynne. After meeting Lynne, myself and Belinda hopped into her car and headed off to fetch the make-up artist, Marianne. Once we had fetched Marianne, we made our way to Beth's mom and dad's farm to do the shoot.
Upon hearing how many times this shoot had fallen through due to numerous unfortunate circumstances, I felt really good knowing, that this project that had been in the making for a few months, was FINALLY going ahead and I was extremely excited to be a part of it.
Upon our arrival at the farm we were met by a very preggy Beth with a massive smile on her face. We walked into the house and immediately I got that homey, farmhouse vibe, it was AWESOME. We were introduced to Beth's dad, Dave, her hubby Anthony (Ant) and then the lady of the hour Wendy, Beth's mum.
After a delightful lunch spread and some chatting, we decided it was time to get the ball rolling for the shoot and we began with make-up and hair.
before anything else is said …. a quick little history
The discovery of Wendy's cancer
Wendy battled with a cough from the begining of 2017, which they believed was to do with her post nasal drip issue. However, at the end of May on a Sunday, the day after Beth and Ant announced their surprise pregnancy to both parents, she was sitting on the grass watching her nephew play and she was coughing again and coughed up blood. It was at this point when Wendy realised something was seriously wrong.
That week she went for scans and tests, to find out on the Thursday that she had a big inoperable tumor on her lung. So straight away a program for chemo and radiation treatment was set up. One evening, a week after her first chemo session,Wendy and Dave were sitting in the lounge, when she started having a seizure.
Dave in a panic and shock contacted his son and Wendy's brother Vere. Vere cleverly contacted a local nurse, where they rushed to his aid and called an ambulance. During which time Wendy had a second seizure before the ambulance got there. She had another in the ambulance along the way to the hospital.
Wendy later recalled to Beth and said that one minute she was eating supper and the next she saw all these faces looking at her: her husband, son, brother, a local nursing friend, they stabilized her, and she proceeded to have another seizure that night in the hospital.
They thought the seizures were caused by the medication she was on after chemo. However, after more tests, the medical specialists found lots of cancer in her brain, meninges. Both lung and brain were at stage 4 level.
To open up the channels/blood brain barrier for chemo to the brain, they needed to administer radiation treatment. So off she went for this and no more chemo. After she completed this program, she had one more dose of chemo and after tests they said that was all they could do for her at the time.
Beth remembers her mum telling her that she chatted the doc on duty at that time, informing the Doctor that her daughter is expecting her first child in January 2018 and wanted to know if she would be able to meet him, his response " Not likely." This did not provide any form of comfort or hope for dearest Wendy.
Throughout all of this the family looked at alternative medicine options and Wendy was put on a strict healthy, no sugar, dairy, meat, wheat etc. diet. Beth and the rest of the family also wanted Wendy to have Photo-dynamic Therapy (PDT), but unfortunately due to government and legal constraints the machine in Cape Town had been put to a stop and the only other option was to get her to Germany for this treatment. Unfortunately - a trip to Germany was not an option as she was too unfit to travel that extent.
Just when they thought her options were running out, the family heard of another treatment with an Oncologist in Richardsbay, which they thought was the same machine used for PDT. After meeting with the Oncologist, Wendy and Dave were both extremely happy and positive with what he had to say and began the next journey of treatment with him.
Wendy then started with Radiation for the cancer in her lung. During this time she was complaining of severe pain in her lower body area, after more tests they found cancer in her pelvic bone area. Thereafter, the next course of radiation treatment was being planned and set, when Wendy unfortunately fell and broke her hip, just below her ball joint.
Wendy expressed to Beth that it was the WORST pain she has ever experienced in her entire life. That weekend she had an op to replace her hip joint, where the doctors found even more cancer. Only after 2 weeks could she start the radiation treatment for her bones in this area.
The doctors then mentioned that she will have a pet scan in the new year, hopefully January 2018, so they can double check for any cancer. As the Prof said he will "chase" the cancer out of her body, and he will make sure the cancer in her lung is just a piece of scar tissue.
… OK let's continue with our story.
While Wendy was having her make-up done, I chatted to her and asked general questions about her life and her family history on the farm. I still remember apologising for all the questions and she responded saying, "No it's fine, if you don't ask about something you will never find out about anything".
The whole time while we were chatting I could not help but think about how scary her journey to this point must have been and seeing how close nit the family was and how much they loved each other, must play a HUGE factor in keeping sane and not giving up.
Listening to all her stories of her youth and journey to this day in time was truly humbling.
Once all the make-up was complete it was off to change into the outfits Lynne had chosen for both Wendy and Beth and off we set outside to shoot.
We started with a few shots of the 'parents to be' as Wendy needed time to get dressed, Lynne worked her magic on getting her looking as elegant and lovely as ever.
Both Beth and Ant mentioned to me that they weren't very photogenic, but after a few cheeky comments and laughs here and there I had them giggling together and completely at ease in front of the camera.
After a few shots. Wendy was finally ready for her time in the spotlight. As she walked out we all had huge smiles on our faces, she looked absolutely beautiful.
As Wendy loved gardening and used to do flower arrangements for weddings at one stage, I picked a few of her flowers and set her down with Beth in a little fire pit area just off the patio. I asked them to just chat and have a moment together. It was a sight through my camera lens that I will never forget and one that, looking back on now and remembering that special moment between mother and daughter, brings a tear to my eye.
After we did the family shoot, Wendy went to have a seat and we decided that some fun needed to had with Beth's baby bump.
I must say, I don't think I have ever laughed and giggled as much as I did when I took these shots. Everyone was having a good laugh and it was an awesome way to finish our time at the house.
Thank you Ant for the idea for these shots! Best baby bump shots ever.
Before wrapping up our day - we were informed that there was one more special place we had to go to before heading home. Dave had packed a flask of coffee with a few yummy treats and off we went to the dam on their farm. Wendy had come along with us, but unfortunately as we arrived at the dam was not feeling the greatest and decided that she needed to go back to the house and rest.
As the sun was setting on our day, it dawned on me that we couldn't have asked for a better location and setting to end our memorable day together.
As I have written this blog post and looked back on the wonderful memories that we were able to make for this very special family - I get a feeling of warmth and love in my body, when we left to head home, it felt like we were not simply leaving as a team that did a project with client. It felt like we had shared a magical day with a family that became friends at the end of our day together.
Thank you Dave, Wendy, Beth and Anthony for welcoming myself, Lynne, Belinda and Marianne into your wonderful home and for allowing us to create these magic moments for you to treasure for years to come.
Writing this has truly pulled at a great many of my heart strings, being able to have had the opportunity to meet Wendy and see what a rock and example she was to her family but also to her beloved daughter was a truly amazing feeling and it is an experience and shoot that I will hold dear to my heart for a very long time.
As a bitter sweet end to this tale, I am pleased to inform all of you that Wendy DID get to meet her precious grandson, Mason Cooper, despite what that one doctor had said to her that one time she was in hospital.
Sadly though, on Thursday 22 February 2018, I received a message that Wendy had lost her fight to 'The Big C' and had passed away. Your warmth, love and guidance that you gave to your family and especially to Beth as she now embarks on her journey as a mum will live on for generations to come. You set a fine example and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to meet you and get to know you, even just a little.
To Beth, Anthony and Dave - I would like to express my deepest sympathies to you and the rest of your family during this difficult time and I hope that as you look through these images that, although your hearts may be filled with the sadness of your loss, a smile also comes to your faces of the love, fun and laughter that was shared on this special day.
Thank you for sharing you story with me.
All my love,
Furthermore, I would also like to say a very special thanks to Lynne and her amazing team who made this day possible - it was lovely working with all of you.
Stylist : Lynne McMaster
Hair : Belinda Santana
Make - Up : Marianne Visagie