Two years to this day, I was on my way to my first photoshoot as a widow. I remember being in a cloud aka ‘widows’ fog but not to the full extend of where I had no control or not remembering. It had been only slightly over two months since I had lost my husband of 21 years suddenly and unexpectedly to a catastrophic brain stem hemorrhage stroke. He was 51 years old. I had to continue to do what I was doing without him. This advocacy awareness was definitely my calling and I was not going to reject this great invitation and experience. Am I glad that I didn’t now.
I had about a 3 hour drive to the beach to the photoshoot site, a location that I’d never been to before. I was looking forward to the scenic drive and had hopes to take the kids to the beach following the shoot. We packed the car with our beach attire and snacks and headed out, gps on. I had no idea what to expect other than to keep pressing on and get this experience behind me once more, almost as if to make my late husband proud, yet at the same time, to find a ground of normalicy for me and the kids alike. We were all used to the glam and routines that an advocate has and opportunities that come with it.
Upon arriving, I was tense but excited. I was also nervous to meet the other cancer survivors that were to be photographed that day as well. I wasn’t sure how this day would play out. Would we be photographed together as a group or as individuals? I had my awareness flyers in hand but did not know if it would be appropriate to hand them out at this particular event. Taking a deep breath, I fixed my shirt and crossed the street from where I could see the big studio windows, so inviting in the cool ocean air and photo equipment.
The moment I walked to the door, I was greeted with such warm invites, handshakes, names, and hugs. Everyone had such big smiles, best dressed. I remember one survivor dressed in his crisp light pink shirt, suspenders and tie, so pristine with his style and big grin. Of all of us there, range of all ages, we had one thing in common-LIFE. We had the appreciation of life. I don’t fully recall if I had already known at the time that Melody, the founder, was a long-term cancer survivor from a childhood cancer but I knew for sure by the end of that day. Amazing! We had already connected via Instagram and chatted which was how I got the invitation to be part of this to begin with. I did know that they had plans for a few different projects, one was a survivor book, although their details were still in the making at time. The entails of remembering this was a fog because I was just trying to get through my days, one at a time, and this first big project alone. I had recently started wearing my husband’s ashes in a time vial along with his ring around my neck; I had been pondering whether to take it off or not, deciding to leave it as a time mark on this new, unwanted journey of mine.
While I waited my turn, they had their makeup artist touch up my make-up and hair, and I chatted with different ones around me while watching others before me get their photos done. They offered us all waters and treats as we waited. I recall talking with a woman there that was also a widow and how she was at awe that I was even there so soon following my husband’s death. She gave me her phone number in case I ever wanted to connect in the future. We both understood our position in life because she was also newly widowed, however, my journey was just beginning so there were limits to my understanding to her extent.
The photoshoot itself was amazing on simple white backdrop and a few basic, every day used props. They had offered to have my kids in the shoot with me, but my youngest, 4 at the time, was being bashful, so my eldest joined me. The images and mother-daughter poses were beautiful. My daughter was old enough to understand my pain yet young enough to not feel the 24/7 sting of it. I now have these captured in time forever along with my memories, and with all the other beautiful survivors there, not on social media alone, however, but in this book that they’ve created and finished. I am so excited to get mine and to have my oncologist dept receive theirs. I know that this will be a great gift for so many, especially my nurses when they see my photos and my cancer/chemo ‘after life’.
Once the shoot was done, they offered us to stay but I insisted that we wanted to head to the beach before the sun set. We ended up on some small beach with a nice playground where we collected seashells and seaweed at dusk and watched the dim of the lighthouse get brighter in the dark. I remember the loneliness, however, also feeling the settled of my-our new reality. We made the best of this trip and went coast scene driving after leaving the rough sandy shore. These memories with all of my kids and this event will forever be with me even more so collaborated within their book. Treasures to remember and new friendships to last. I have since reconnected with them and attended another cancer event they held again by the ocean. This time I was able to invite another choriocarcinoma survivor to attend with me and be part of the event. Moments last beyond memories in a book.