Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Karen and Buddy recently took a mission trip to Casa Bugambilia in Matamoros, Mexico. They assisted the humanitarian work of Dr. Nancy Rodriguez and Larry Cox. The colonias Casa Bugambilia serves as the home of people who moved from the interior of Mexico to the border hoping to find work and a better life for their children and themselves. Because the work often wasn't there, nor was affordable housing, they built houses on land no one else wanted - a former landfill near an industrial canal. The houses were makeshift, constructed out of whatever material could be scavenged. Slowly, as the community matured and with the assistance of volunteers like you, conditions in the colonias improved. Still, access to clean water, sewers and electricity is unreliable. Recently established colonias have no utilities, and the shelter is often little more than discarded plywood nailed together. Air quality is poor. Quality healthcare is often unavailable. The schools are poor. In short, the colonias are areas of great need - physically and spiritually.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Irresistible Portraits: Happy Couple!
I wanted to take a moment to send you an email and let you know how beautiful all of the wedding photos are. Ben and I have enjoyed looking through them this weekend and reliving that wonderful day in August. We're still in awe at how quickly everything flew by, but you captured so many of the events and emotions in your photos that we felt like we were right back in the middle of all the celebrations. :)
Thanks again to Meredith and Ben for allowing us to photograph your special day. It's an honor to be chosen as your wedding photographers and we hope you get the same feeling when you look at your images on your 50th wedding anniversary!
Monday, September 20, 2010
Irresistible Portraits: Client Showcase
For our client showcase in our fall newsletter, we chose Michelle Moore. Karen was introduced to Michelle through another photographer. After reading Michelle's story, we knew she would be a blessing to be a part of Focused on a Cure, our non-profit organization.
We asked Michelle to give us a few words on what it was like to be a part of Focused on a Cure this year. Here's what she had to say...
"It is so awesome to be a part of an amazing and strong group of women, and sometimes I wonder, 'is this really my life, and how did I get here?' The women blow me away with their strength and courage, and I see so much hope and a sisterhood that is hard to explain until you've been a part of it. I suppose a bit like having a twin would be...you can't quite explain the bond, but it is there, and it is strong.
And then there was the tribute to Judie...it was striking and moving and sad and it made me a little afraid, as I have stage IV cancer. As weird as it may sound, it also gave me strength to know that I am not alone, and there are women before me who's battles have ended, but they did it with grace and courage, and yes, I'm sure some fear; and that gives me peace.
I think of all the people who were helping: you, Renda, Karen, Buddy...the whole IP team...you give so much and it is your help that encourages me most. I know some of you have been touched by cancer in your families, but there are other areas where you could be focusing your energies, and yet you choose us, breast cancer survivors. It is humbling that you choose us, you choose me, because that's what it means when you put all your energy into this huge undertaking; you have chosen me...to fight for me, to love me, and do what you can to help me. It sounds selfish when put that way, I suppose, but the point is, you are touching real people, with real lives, and real families. We are not just statistics...we are women (and men) who are benefitting from your hard work, and I know we are all more grafeful than can be expressed. So as simple and inadequate as it sounds, "thank you."
Karen, I can never express what my portrait session meant to me. To be with my children, to be able to see the beauty in us and our relationship...even amongst all the struggles as a mother and wife and fighter, there is love...more than anything, there is love. I will treasure that always, as will my children, I am sure.
Jessica, thank you for allowing me to be a part of all of this. It is such an honor."
My name is Michelle Moore, and this is my story.
I was 37 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time.
We were sitting as a family, with our two children, Jesse and Samantha, watching Saturday morning cartoons, when my son, leaned into me. He hadn’t touched my chest, but for some reason, it prompted me to check my right breast. Immediately, I noticed a pea-sized lump, and below that, a rather large lump. I knew it was cancer. I’m not sure how; I’m not sure why I didn’t think it was a cyst…I had no doubt that it was bad. One of my chemo nurses says it’s women’s intuition; I have my own ideas. Jesse has autism, and he’s truly the sweetest little boy you’ll ever meet. I’ve always called him “my angel” and that day I think God prompted me through my angel. I also think He let me feel this was serious so I wouldn’t delay in getting it checked out. That was Saturday, April 19, 2008.
On Monday, April 21, I made an appointment with my family practitioner. His office always keeps “sick” appointments so he was able to see me right away. Without saying the word “cancer,” he let me know he was VERY concerned, that I needed a mammogram right away, and that things would move very quickly; that the Presbyterian breast cancer team was a “well-oiled” machine and they would handle everything. Though I felt certain it was cancer, I was still not panicked. There were tests to be done before we knew for sure, and everyone around me kept encouraging me that it would be fine. I’m not sure I ever really believed that, but it was not time to freak out…yet.
Over the next several days, I had a mammogram, diagnostic ultrasound, and a biopsy. They had discovered at least one positive lymph node, so they biopsied that as well. Yikes! Let’s just say it involved a rather large needle, a large popping sound, that gross, numb pulling sensation, and NO sedation. Not an experience I wish to repeat.
On Tuesday, April 29, we were called back into the radiologists office. My husband, Richard, and I call it the “cancer” room. There are breast cancer books everywhere, and as soon as you walk in you think, “they can only have bad news for us in this room.” We were right. They had found cancer cells in the breast as well as the lymph nodes. I guess we all always wonder how we would react in those situations. My reaction: “WOW! I can’t believe you actually said the words!” They looked at me like I was nuts. The next hour consisted of them giving us more information than we could process: chemo, radiation, surgery, support systems…..blah, blah, blah….that’s what I heard. Though everyone is fantastic, I would highly recommend that they change it to “We’re sorry, it’s cancer. Go home, process and come back tomorrow…we can answer everything then.” That may not work for all women, but maybe it should be an option. After “cancer,” we didn’t hear anything else.
The next weeks consisted of meeting with the surgeon, the oncologist, and LOTS and lots of tests. CT scans, bone scans, MRIs. Everything confirmed that the cancer was confined to the breast and my lymph node…good news! They did, however, find a nodule on my right lung. They were almost positive it wasn’t cancer, but to be on the safe side my oncologist ordered a PET scan….the daddy of all scans. The test came back, and he was right, no cancer. Most likely it is scar tissue from an infection, or I was born with it. This holds significance later in my story.
At the time, it was important me to keep my breast. I’m not going to give justification….it’s a very personal choice for every woman, and until you go through it, you can’t truly know what choice you would make. That being the case, and because my surgeon felt we could shrink the tumor with chemo first, and then have surgery. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy. All it really means is that you have your chemo before you have your surgery. In my case, we were hoping to shrink the tumor enough to do a lumpectomy. My tumor was just over 5cm…it was big.
I was placed on a chemotherapy regimen referred to as TAC. Taxotere, Adriamycin and Cytoxan. It is a rather aggressive regimen because I received all three medications on the same day, once every three weeks. The thing most people don’t understand about chemo is that it is all very individual. It’s based a great deal on your pathology report, but also on your age and general health. Adriamycin is very hard on the heart, so my understanding is that it is generally given to younger women. All I can say is, chemo stinks! I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and it’s definitely something I wouldn’t want to repeat.
During all of this, I was scared, but for the most part, I felt certain that it would be okay. We knew treatment would take about 7 months, but once it was over, we would get back to our lives. I got through every day thinking, “God has a plan, I don’t know what it is, and I am only one very small part of His plan.” I was tired, and not feeling well, but I had a lot of help and I had two beautiful children to fight for. It was a no-brainer…keep a positive attitude and fight through. I worked as a bartender, I did a couple of photo shoots, and I spent time with my children and husband. I’d like to say this all brought my husband and me closer, but truthfully, I was so busy trying to make everything “okay” that I didn’t let him know just how bad I was feeling. I would get frustrated because he couldn’t read my mind, and I wasn’t telling him what I needed. He acted like everything was fine…and with good reason….that’s what I showed him. I take the blame for all of that…ladies, if you ever go through this, you have to tell your partner what you need and how you’re feeling: they can’t read minds, and frankly, it’s not a skill I’ve perfected either.
We settled into a new “normal” and got through treatment. When it came time for surgery, we found that my tumor had fallen apart instead of just shrinking, so no lumpectomy for me. I opted for a mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. I also had twenty-five lymph nodes removed…only the one was positive. The immediate reconstruction consists of a tissue expander which gets filled over a period of time. Essentially they put it under your muscle and any tissue they’ve had to add (frequently cadaver skin, which I found fascinating) and fill it with saline through a silicone port with a really long needle. Tissue expanders are oddly shaped, nothing like a real breast, and are hard, hard, hard. And uncomfortable. And awkward. And all around unpleasant. Oh, that’s me complaining about the tissue expanders…again. My husband got used to that. I tried not to complain too much throughout this process…but that thing was more than I could handle.
The last phase of my treatment consisted of radiation. Not difficult, but a pain because you have to go five days a week. Also, I got a rather nice burn. Fortunately for me, removing breast tissue and lymph nodes led to numbness in those areas so I didn’t feel it.
I finished treatment on January 22, 2009. It had been a long nine month process, and it was finally over. Relief would seem like a normal reaction, but I didn’t know what to feel. My job for nine months had been to fight cancer, now that it was over I felt….empty.
Throughout this process, my faith had remained strong. I knew where my strength was coming from and I knew I had not done it on my own. Some people say that God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle. I have a dear friend who says God doesn’t give us anything HE can’t handle, otherwise, why would we need Him? That’s what I choose to believe. He has carried me through more than I could have ever crawled through. I’d like to say that is the end…that it all worked out fine and my relationship with the Lord remained strong. I am ashamed to admit that the end of treatment was the beginning of my anger. I’m not sure what over…I didn’t feel all that sorry for myself, or at least I don’t think I did…maybe that’s not really the truth. I’m still not sure. I just know I was angry…for a long time. REALLY, REALLY angry. I didn’t want to talk to God, and I couldn’t hear Him. Who’s fault was that? It has taken time, but what I am learning is that it’s like I tell my kids, “I may get angry with you, but I ALWAYS, ALWAYS love you. There is nothing you can do that will make me stop loving you.” The same is true for my heavenly Father. I may disappoint Him, I may not always do what I should, but He ALWAYS, ALWAYS loves me. This process has brought me to a truer relationship with God. For me, it’s not always flowery and perfect…sometimes it’s ugly and raw, and it’s where I grow the most.
When this journey started, I said I wanted to be a better person for it. I can’t say that happened, but I can say I learned that I am stronger than I ever imagined. I function well in a crisis. I can keep a positive attitude in spite of adversity. I can laugh at myself and difficult situations but balance that with the seriousness of it all. And I am well-loved. If you ever want to know who your friends are, get cancer. Wow! I was humbled and overwhelmed. Cancer brought me closer to people who are now forever a special part of my life. It also showed me the people I can let go of. That’s okay, too. Now I know who will fight in the trenches with me. I wouldn’t trade that lesson for anything.
As I said, I chose to have a prophylactic mastectomy on the left breast. In June of 2009, five months after treatment had ended, I had surgery and immediate reconstruction. In October of that same year, I had my permanent implants placed. Though they were still somewhat uncomfortable, they were much better than the tissue expanders.
I was disappointed to find out in February of 2010, that my left implant was not sitting properly. The radiation on the right breast was tightening that skin and cause it to move up thus causing the left to appear lower. The left was also moving lower just a bit (a nice way of saying “sagging”) and my plastic surgeon recommended a revision on the left side. Bummer. It wasn’t anyone’s fault and is somewhat common, particularly when radiation is performed. It changes the skin quite a bit and makes it unpredictable. My plastic surgeon calls it the “gift that keeps on giving.” It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, especially since I thought I was finally done. Keep in mind, I had been diagnosed in April of 2008, so this had all been going on for almost 2 years. It had been a marathon and I’m not what you would consider a runner. On May 20, 2010, I underwent my fourth and final surgery.
In a perfect world, that’s where the story would end.
I mentioned earlier, the nodule on my lung. It was not, and still is not, cancer. Most people will tell you oncologists are not betting folks. They are cautious…almost annoyingly so. (No offense, Dr. Lassiter.) Every ache and pain warrants a scan and a lung nodule warrants a yearly checkup CT scan. Thank God. On June 8th of this year, I went for my routine CT scan of my right lung. When I headed to my oncologists office, I had my children with me, and was prepared for the usual, “everything’s fine” diagnosis from my doctor. It was the first time I had gone to his office and not been worried; hence the reason I brought the kids. I figured I’d go in, get the all clear and then we’d head to Chik-fil-a. One of the chemo nurses came in and took the children. At first, I thought they might have been a little irritated that I brought the kids, but I had brought them before. When I asked if everything was okay, she said, “come see me afterwards.” My heart sank to my stomach….not good. I knew it immediately. It was back. The doc came in and sat down, looked at me and said, “we found some spots on your liver….I’m so sorry.” Talk about having the wind knocked out of you. If you know anything about cancer, you know that metastatic disease is not good. There is no cure. Mostly treatment consists of longevity, quality of life and hope that a better treatment comes along. Don’t get me wrong, women can live for several years with metastases, but it is generally considered terminal. Not news you want to hear at 39 years of age, with two young children; now 8 and 5.
I’d like to say I have been accepting and not had moments of feeling sorry for myself. I’d like to say that I’m not angry and that I still know that God has a plan and that I trust that plan. I CAN say, that I know God has a plan and that He loves me. I can say that life is not always fair, especially to young children who face a possible future without their mother and a husband without his wife and friend. I can also say that we will FIGHT.
Three weeks ago, I started another chemotherapy regimen which is part of a clinical study. I am tired but feeling well, most of the time. Once again, I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support; often I feel undeserving, but I was and am undeserving of Christ dying on the cross for my sins, and yet it happened and I am grateful, and humbled and I see His love in so many I meet.
This is not where I pictured my life. There are so many things I would change, and yet there are so many things I have learned that I would not. I am learning to live every day as it comes, and I am appreciating my children more than ever. I have more people who love me than I would have ever thought possible…what a gift! One most people don’t get while still on this earth. I have learned that when we face our own mortality we don’t curl up in a ball; we get up, we go to work, we yell at our kids, and we learn to find joy in the little things. Yes, I know it’s a bit cliché, but it really is true.
I am afraid. I worry how this will affect my children, my husband, my family. I think I would be lying if I said this would all be okay. It’s not fun, it’s not what I want…but it is what it is and the best way for me to deal with it is to take it one step at a time, and do what I have to do. Fight, love, hope and pray. I suppose I should say that everything happens for a reason, and I guess it does, I don’t know. God does. I hope I can bring glory to Him through this battle. If I do, it won’t be through my doing but through His Grace. It is evident in so many places to me.
I tell my children that courage is not doing things without fear, it is doing them in SPITE of the fear. It is a valuable lesson, and one I hope I am living with some level of grace and dignity.
So that is my story, but this is not the end. The Lord ensured that there is no end for me; just a different place for eternity.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Irresistible Portraits: NYC with C.C. & Company Salon and Spa
Karen had the opportunity to travel with the girls from C.C. & Company Salon and Spa. They were going to NYC for the New York Fashion Week Unite Academy. Karen was there to document their trip, from the Unite Late Night Party tot he streets of NYC.
Karen was recently inspired by another photographer's late night session in Time Square. After 2am is the only time the streets are jam packed with people! So... at 2:30am, they hit the streets to make a statement. Look at this group of stylish ladies!
It's great to see another business owner believing in continuing the education of their employees in order to keep the best quality service for their clients! Great minds think alike!
To see more of the ladies' fabulous Time Square session, visit our fan page at www.facebook.com/IPbyKG.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Irresistible Portraits: The Other Children Winner
It's official! Dr. Trish Johnson of Compassionate Care Veterinary Hospital of Charlotte judged our "Other Children" contestants - all the pets photographed during the month of August. After debating, she chose Miss Gabby, a King Charles Spaniel, and daughter of Chris and Katie Honeycutt. What proud parents they must be.. and happy too! They won a $100 gift card to PetSmart!
Meet Dr. Trish Johnson! She was our judge for the contest. We recently photographed her business portraits for her website - http://www.charlottepetdoctor.com/. Read more about her! She's a great lady with a true passion for animals.
To see all contestants from our contest, visit our facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/IPbyKG.
Irresistible Portraits: Chevy Summer Event [FOC Fundraiser]
A few weeks ago, we hosted our first Chevy Summer Event as a fundraiser for Jess and Renda's Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. They're both walking 39 miles in about 39 days from now, but they have to each raise a minimum of $1,800 each!
Our Chevy Summer Event was a killer deal! We offered 15 minute sessions with our old Chevy truck and with a $40 donation to their walk, you received an 8x10 portrait and 15% off any additional portraits. What a deal, huh?!
Here are a few images from our event. You can see more on our facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/IPbyKG.
Thanks so all who participated! Every little bit counts. We appreciate your support!
Monday, August 23, 2010
Irresistible Portraits: Photographic Society of the Triangle
Karen was asked to share a marketing seminar with the Photographic Society of the Triangle last week. Monday evening, she shared some insight on what has kept Irresistible Portraits cranking through this hard times. The event was held at the recently renovated Sheraton Imperial in Durham, NC, where the PPNC convention and events are held.
Karen's marketing seminars normally come across as a motivational speech, because as you'll notice, we're not sitting around waiting on our next client. You have to constantly have something to offer and our marketing wheels are always turning.
We've gotten some great feedback from Monday's seminar already.
Great presentation Karen. I'm fired up to get to the studio in the morning! -Mark Jacoby
You were great Karen! I love your energy! I don't think I will sleep much tonight - my gears are working! -Leslie Privette
God has blessed you richly; Thank you for sharing with us at PST and for giving Him the glory!
-On behalf of PST membership, Elizabeth Burgess
Feel free to leave comments! Thanks for giving us the opportunity to share what works for IP.