Fuck cancer. Seriously.
I don't know a single person who hasn't been affected by cancer in one form or another. A family member, a friend, a coworker... Themselves. Many stories are tearful and end in sorrow – but there are also those stories of survivors, those lucky enough for early diagnosis and are able to have beat the odds. Enter Jessica.
This gorgeous girl and I have been friends for the majority of my adult life (or at least the period of my life where I considered myself having started to Adult!). Fitting maybe that we met in a hospital, although under very different circumstances than you may think if reading up to this point. We were both working security for Alberta Health Services; me to make ends meet while I finished up my degree and her to get experience in the medical world. She wanted to be a nurse, but she told me she had been taking photography in post secondary up to this point – we became fast friends.
Our friendship grew and revolved around numerous road trips, late night aurora hunting expeditions and exploring abandoned homesteads and buildings. And chicken and waffles. There was always time for chicken and waffles. Birthdays came and went, vacations, boyfriends, laughs and tears. She got into the nursing program she wanted, I finished my degree and then she did too. She has always been there for me, and me for her.
After a lifetime of battling intestinal polyps, in early 2015 Jessica was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and scheduled for immediate surgery that would completely remove her colon, leave her with a permanent stoma and an ostomy bag for the rest of her life. At the age of 24. When she told me, I remember everything in my world stopping. I couldn't breath, it felt like my lungs were squeezed closed. I called her. We talked. I cried.
I think I cried more for Jessica than she did. She has always been so strong when it comes to her health and medical conditions. In April of 2015 she was brought in for surgery and after a few days of recovery, she was home. Safe and healthy, if not whole.
Since then she has worked tirelessly at being the best LPN she can be, in a unit at the Royal Alexander Hospital where her personal experiences can be of help to patients. She has fearlessly brought awareness to this condition and the disease with her social media accounts and awareness runs (the annual Push for Your Tush 1k/5k/10k run). When I asked her how much of her story and what images I could share on my blog, she said everything, that she'd "...like to share it. Raise awareness. Break stigma." Fierce, right?
I think it is safe to say I wouldn't be on the journey I am with photography if it wasn't for Jess. And it was such an honour and even humbling to have her ask me to photograph her One Year Cancer Free session. We picked a day, visited some of our favourite spots to shoot together and here are the results.