Tuesday, October 5, 2010

October is breast cancer awareness month...

It's been a year since I met Carmen, who is the inspiration for my art project, Beauty beyond breast cancer. This has been a long process as we are still trying to schedule times so that I can continue with her story. But it is not just about Carmen, there are far too many women that this non-discriminating disease strikes. Age, ethnicity and even heredity do not always factor into who will hear the dreaded words from their doctors... I'm sorry, the lump we discovered is cancerous. I'm sure you could hear a pin drop as their minds raced and an inaudible scream welled up in their throats.

But for the grace of God, go I... As a woman, a mother of a daughter and grandmother to 2 girls; I can feel their pain. Breast cancer is not in my family history but it remains a fear for me. I have watched a friend lose a sister at the age of 39, leaving behind a 9 year old daughter and a loving husband to fend for themselves. She fought a long battle, on her terms and lived her life as best she could.

Breast cancer is not always a death sentence but that thought goes through everyones mind at one point or another and I am always amazed at the strength these women exhibit and how much is drawn upon from their friends, family, and even strangers when they need it.

I have read many blogs and links to support groups and am so drawn to their stories, the emotions that they share and their willingness to open up their hearts and souls in order to help someone else cope with living with cancer.

You never know where your life will lead you or on what path you will happen to meet someone who can make a change in your life. Art has always been an expression of emotions, through light and shadows you create a mood, with colors vivid or subdued you set the stage. I hope that the story I tell will touch you and open your hearts to others because it is with an open heart, that so much love comes in and flows out.

By chance a woman from PA saw my comment on a breast cancer link and reached out to me. She told me that she would like to be a part of my photo essay on breast cancer and that she had her last chemo treatment the day before. She attached a picture of her and her family on that day and I felt compelled to her endearing, bright smile. She wasn't quite in the NJ/NY metro area but I'd have been hard pressed not to drive 2-1/2 hours for the chance to meet this remarkable, positive, lovely, young woman who was on her journey - life with breast cancer. Mary did not have a mastectomy, the lump was removed leaving a small scar. Six months of chemo behind her and radiation treatments ahead of her - her journey begins.

In the short time that I spent at their home this past Sunday, I just touched upon who they are. Dave is her rock, the girls are what keeps her going and brings so much laughter and chaos into her daily life that she has little time to wallow in her own sorrow and pain. That is not to say that she wasn't able to focus on herself, her illness or her needs but that the family life gave her the levity that she needed.

I learned of Mary's support staff beside her loved ones,family and friends which included her neighbors who prepared meals for them so that she would have one less thing to worry about during her monthly chemo sessions. Chemo drains so much of your strength and with young children, you need as much as you can garnish. There was a hair cutting party that Malia and Alexa were a part of. They cut her pigtails and she donned a pixie do before the loss of her tresses. The girls are young but understood that Mommy was sick and needed their help. They were a big part of her joy and helped keep her balanced.

I am sure there were plenty of dark and dismal times when she was wrapped tightly in Dave's arms at night. Fear of the unknown comes into play and can be hard to shake. In first meeting Mary, none of that was lingering. Dave thinks she is incredible and her strength most likely bolstered his own. They would fight this disease which ravishes one's body, trying to seep its cold fingers into one's heart and soul. The power of love!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Lately Jene and I have been busy with a few road trips and haven't been keeping up with what's happening in NY. But we try to cram everything in that comes our way, which keeps us busy.

I still have to edit through a photoshoot that I did the end of May and am creating a wonderful book for the parents of twins through our Labor Of Love Pix fine art portraits - weddings, bump, birth and beyond. The little ladies were just a little over 3 months and although don't do very much, we were entertained by them for hours on end. Offering to babysit while the parents enjoyed a quiet dinner without juggling forks and babies. A wonderful evening for all. I wanted to include a few intimate moments between the mother and the girls in their book. Talk about sugar and spice...

This is the ultimate love story as far as I'm concerned. There is no greater bond than between a mother and her babies and so worth the many sleepless nights. The dad took the opportunity to catch a few zzzzzs on the couch. They grow so quickly and both Jene and I are thrilled to make time stand still for this loving family.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I'm back... ( BUT without a vengeance) I LOVE my job!

Way too much time has past since I've put any effort into our LOLP blog.

Trying to think of ways to drum up business takes up 75% of my daylight hours. Photographing / creating about 5% and editing images 20% and then there is LIFE which gets squeezed in.

Life is good, I recently went on a whirl wind trip in 15 days to Hong Kong, Melbourne, Sydney AU, Auckland, NZ. Countless hours spent to and from airports and in the air but a once in a lifetime experience none-the-less.

Before I headed overseas, Jene and I photographed the babies (all girls) of 2 of our recent "bump" portrait sessions. The twins were 15 days old the other pipsqueak was just 9 days. I think I had more fun holding the twins before setting them into position and had to cuddle them when they started to fuss. Jene's fatherly instincts came back to him quickly remembering how soothing holding a baby close to your heart is (for them and yourself). It was a pleasure having the twins at the studio in NJ. The instant you take a diaper off a baby is when they seem to like to pee. Blankets, props and drop clothes were tossed into the ivory snow wash. Less clean-up for us shooting the other in the comfort of their home. (We shot the bare-bottom baby on their family room leather couch propped with their pillow and baby blankets. (I'm sure they were happy we didn't choose the LR's new sectional).

Feel free to peruse our website Labor Of Love Pix so you can see more of our work.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Time helps heal

It's been a while since I've written about Carmen and her journey with breast cancer. She recently underwent reconstructive surgery. I've spent some of my time in trying to solicite art grant funds but so far to no avail. I would like to photograph more women who have gone through their mastectomies and are now on the healing side of life. Physically and emotionally coming to terms with having lost a body part and coming out the other end of it where they are now feeling whole again - AND beautiful because they are.

Carmen was my initial inspiration and my friend Deb agreed to work with me on this project. Carmen has the dark haired siren look and attitude about herself which I absolutely love. Deb is gorgeous, a Marilyn Monroe type of face and curves. A woman who inherited her mother's flair for style and exuded confidence without flaunting it. (Margaret, the apple didn't fall very far from the tree - you were someone I thought epitomized class, grace and strength of character and virtue at every turn).

I am looking to work with other women, age doesn't matter, heart does! So if you are a woman (in the NY/NJ Metro area) who is about to undergo or already have undergone a mastectomy and would like to become a part of my artistic personal project. Please contact me. My ultimate goal is to photograph you as the beautiful women you are, exhibiting in art galleries and publishing an art book. Take a look at my website so you can see that I capture the essence and emotions of women. (nudity is not necessary if you are uncomfortable) but I want to show your beauty and strength.

websites: www.marywehrhahn.com

Mary Durante Wehrhahn
(201) 703-4326

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A scar is just a line drawn...

It's not that I am finished working with Carmen's journey with breast cancer . BUT I am extending what has now become a personal art project for me. I have to thank Carmen for being the driving force. It the the verbalization of her need to feel that she is just as beautiful a woman after her mastectomy, that has me advancing my scope to show other women, who are living with breast cancer, as the beautiful creatures that they are.

This has grown in scope due to the fact that other people have contacted me through my blog and are thrilled to read Carmen's story and to know that I am echoing their voices too.

My dear friend, who underwent a mastectomy and DEIP reconstructive surgery 6 months ago, agreed to be my subject, posing nude and partially draped in fabrics. She has a Marilyn Monroe quality to her and I wanted to bring that out. We had a rushed photo shoot because we spent a little too much time chatting over lunch but I loved some of the images I captured. I would like the opportunity to invite her husband to the next session because he is a big part of her recovery. Deb agreed to be a part of a photo essay. She was nice enough to invite me to her restorative yoga session where I hope to recruit other women to be a part of this photojournal.

The women in my photo essay will have the right of refusal of images used and content and will give written approval to me as the creator before publication.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

After effects...

Although Carmen asked me not to post any further pictures or to blog more about her because she would rather work on the book that we are developing; I just wanted to let everyone know how remarkable this woman is. And that she is doing well. Of course she is no more remarkable then the women who went before her or those who unfortunately will follow after on this journey one takes when you hear the words "You have breast cancer".

She is looking forward to going back to work. It's been 5 weeks since her double mastectomy, stage 1 cancer. I photographed her yesterday and must admit, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to capture her beauty the way I wanted to. We shot in her house with natural light and both of us loved the images I captured. Her healing process is not over but she is well on her way.

Yes, she is plagued by fears, worse case scenarios dance through her mind, racing at night when she lies in her bed, but she brightens as she wakes to the light of day. Her attitude is hopeful, she grabs onto the horns of life with both hands and tries to get the most out of the ride.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ready or not, here we come....

Jene and I hoped that we could get more of a story and Carmen's feelings as well as her mother's and sister's as she went into the hospital, from a humanistic standpoint. At first the time told to us was 10:00am as the ETA which would have enabled me to meet Jene there. Carmen and Jene spoke the night before after the hospital had set the time to 7:30am with 2:00 surgery time . Jene thought he could handle this by himself, knowing what pictures we wanted to help convey her story.

Jene woke up early (6am, early for him), walked the dog, who wondered what was going on and why were they going for a walk in the middle of the night). He wasn't prepared for Carmen even though she called him as he was walking to the subway and told him of her migraine.

When the car arrived and mom brought out Carmen holding her up with Carmen's head on her shoulders he felt he had to help. When a man comes into the picture, they are in charge - oops there goes the photographic control. Now Jene had to answer questions from the guard while getting a wheel chair.

Carmen is telling anyone who will listen where she needs to go. At least the admitting office was empty of people and we were able to get papers signed, four or five signatures.

Off to the Cromin building for radiation. Meet another doctor, sign more forms, and Carmen's breast is injected with dye, a picture is taken, which is given to them to bring to the OR (One would think that it could be computerized and sent to the operating room in an instant).

Jene recognizes the codependency tendencies in Carmen and in himself because he went through some similar situations in his childhood and relationships afterward. Finally he realized his issues and sought help with Caron org. , a recovery organization.

Anyway, back to the subject.
Undergoing a mastectomy is not to be taken lightly, both Jene & I agree that it is a terrible disease that effects so many women and their families. Most shy away from the limelight. Carmen gravitates towards it. We are not passing judgement because that is not our role. We are telling a story, her story and relating it to the commonality that most women would feel even if they chose not to share it publicly.

Carmen is not the only woman to lose her breasts, just one who is crying out to be heard, to let everyone know how it feels, what she is going through and how she is trying to cope with it.
Jene and I are trying to tell her story because it does effect so many women, ones too shy or private to talk about it publicly. Ones who only shared their most intimate feelings and fears with their family and close friends as I have with Jene.

Women who don't want to have people wonder which breast is the real one in hushed whispers. Hopefully bringing her story out into the open will help others understand that a woman still has the same feelings, thoughts, dreams and desires as she did before having a breast or two removed. Both of us feel uneasy, being in the middle of someone else's life, a stranger for all intent and purposes. We are hearing intimate details of all phases of her life and are trying to strike a balance between sensationalizing someone's pain and getting her story out. Neither one of us are professional journalists or investigative reporters just 2 photographers who are trying to connect with others through our images and words mixed with love.