Aunt Rita

yellow bowl 2

Packing is filled with memories and the excitement of a new adventure. As I was boxing things to move, a bright memory was brought on by my Aunt Rita’s golden 1970’s bowl. It was in storage in my parents attic for years and some how ended up with me. 

Aunt Rita was my god mother. My memories of her are distant and faded, but fond. Some time in her thirties she was consumed by mental illness. As a child my exposure to her was limited. She was in and out of institutions and lived a life uninhibited by any social norms when on the outside. 

She would sporadically call my parents house, and as a teen I was always the first to answer the phone. Despite the clear mental confusion in her voice she was always loving and kind when we spoke.  In a daze of drugs, fog, and tragedy she had a brutal clarity about the world around her. My parents wanted to shield me, but I found her conversations intoxicating. Where ever her mind and body took her she never forgot to call me on my birthday. Her yearly birthday wish gave me a sense of connection.

When I found Aunt Rita’s bowl I held it up to the light and wondered how things looked through her eyes. Golden, Beautiful, and Distorted.  

winning and losing

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As I sat in the tiny room on the disposable paper liner my feet dangled below me. I had waited a month for this appointment. Partly for my exam and partly to thank the doctor that had saved my life. In the tiny room I could hear the amplified heartbeat of the baby. It was rapid and eager to meet the world. I closed my eyes to imagine the possibilities. The heartbeat came from the woman in the room next to me. You see, it was my OB that discovered my cancer.

I was there to find out if the chemo and radiation had destroyed my ovaries. The mood swings and hot flashes had already begun to consume my days, but the reality of hearing it hit harder than expected. I would be facing a rapid menopause, and hormone replacement is not an option for cancer patients. I felt I had lost so much already.

As I cried over the loss, he reminded me of how much I had won. I had my life, we fought like hell to beat the odds that were so low I can’t bare to mention them out loud. I had love and my life back. The possibilities are endless.

The countdown continues

20130828-011928.jpgPhoto courtesy of Chuck Arlund. Pre treatment head shave.

100 day countdown. This is my best attempt to help everyone understand this scifi trip we are on and to say thank you for all my support. So many people in my life have stepped in to help and just shine on us. I am forever grateful.

Day zero – the day you get your new cells. Think of it as rebirthday. A fresh new immune system that needs to develop and grow similar to that of a newborn baby. No immunity to chicken pox, or any of the thousands of bugs out there. Very vulnerable. Mine was June 21st, you can start shopping now for next years rebirthday gifts :)

Day 1-30. My particular transplant required about 30 days of in hospital care. Iv meds and daily blood work to maintain my body in an environment that the new cells could survive. And of course the quarantine . You are isolated to a special floor and very limited to what you can do, what u eat and who can see you. Many days staring out the window and trying to remember what season it was and what it might feel like. I would love to hear it rain, it was the only time I could get a sense of the outside world. The sounds and lights from a storm were senses I still had behind glass.

Day 30+. I’m not sure there is any way to really be prepared after a bone marrow transplant, but so far Pierre and I have managed to navigate the process. after my initial 30 day hospital stay I was sent home to begin the out patient portion of my treatment. It took some time to make it all click, making sure my meds and blood counts were being monitered on a regular basis and understanding scheduling was challanging. I won’t lie, I felt very lost in a sea of doctors and nurses with a different face each visit. I didn’t have the security of one doctor that was watching me and following through, its more of a clinic or team effort. Whoever you get that day is who you get. Things started to get missed, and I started getting scared. What have I done! There is no going back after the decision is made and you can’t just walk into any doctors office and ask for treatment. A few phone calls and conversations later we feel that things seem to be going much better. I have managed to find a few key people that are making the effort to stay with me as I navigate, tests, appointments, home health care, drugs that can cost $10,000 a month without the right paper work. Uggggg, not for the faint of will. I am grateful to them all.

Throughout my fears, my body has been responding very well to the transplant and my numbers continue to improve. There is nothing better than being home to recover. Eating, sleeping and being with loved ones is paramount in gaining back the strength that is lost during a month long hospital stay. I have had a few things come up, but over all I feel stronger everyday.

On day 30 I received a dna test to see how much of my bone marrow was donor and how much was my own trying to grow back. We are not interested in seeing mine come back around. Mine had its chance and did a fairly epic fail with the leukemia. The goal is a new immune system that will keep the leukemia from returning. So I passed my first test with flying colors! 99% of my cells were engrafted donor, much more than even expected. We had a little celebration and it was a beautiful day. I felt like someone gave us a key to our future. Pierre is my caregiver and my soul. He is all in this with me, to be able to look at each other and plan a life is the light we needed. Every day he reminds me, we have a future don’t give up. When I have a bad day and I just know I can’t take anymore, he holds me and reminds me it will pass. I will have a good day and remember its all worth it. On really good days he reminds me to take it in, dont forget how good you are today and keep this memory. Its important to keep your head on, and just as easy to lose.

Today I am somewhere around day 68. Two thirds through my post care of out patient visits, special diet, disinfecting everything daily, wearing masks, limited human contact and meds. Ohhhh the meds. I try to imagine that my pills are just giant colorful cupcake sprinkles. It actually works. Its only one of the coping visuals that I have come up with to get through.

The Count from Sesame Street has somehow managed to join as part of my care team . I have never been a fan a needles- ever. Ewwww gross. This has not cured me of that fear, but I’m getting better. My go-to meditation during any poking and prodding procedure had been to close my eyes and count. I had learned this in lamaz meditation classes long ago with my birthing classes and later in yoga. The theory is that our little brains can only do so much. If we can distract and focus on something enough, the rest will fall into the background. This really works for me, but as anxiety grew I had to step it up. It started with just counting on my fingers and forcing my brain to visualized the numbers. Then one day during a particularly difficult test the numbers were not enough. Suddenly the voice from sesame street crept in. “One batty batty bat, ooooo haaaa” , ” two batty batty bats” . Seriously! Im laying on my side with my eyes closed and my fingers in the air most likely mouthing the words from a sesame street character while I am getting a bone marrow biopsy. You know they had to think I was, yes I’m gonna go there, bat shit crazy.

As much as it all sounds we have daily love and laughter and make the most of it all. I have some new fuzz for hair that is fun to rub and Pierre is dealing with regrowth from his sympathy shave. He stayed bald with me most of the time. I missed his long hair so have been discouraging a hair cut. We will see how long he can tolerate it.

As it turns out Robin Roberts from ABC news had the same transplant procedure, and I found a great article online that explains the process. click the following link if you would like to learn more ABC news article explaining Robins BMT process

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Photo courtesy of Pierre Vreyen. Gale’s visit

Coffee, Tacos, and Chemo

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Over the past few years my life has been a whirlwind of changes. I have spent the first half of it raising my two incredible children and loving every minute. My father was never much of a “NO” guy. When I would come up to him and ask “can I climb that?”, “can we swim in that?”, “can we jump off it?”, his answer was usually “give it a try”. I grew up swimming in creeks and rivers and skating on ponds. I only fell through the ice once. My brothers and I made tree forts and we ate real mud pies. We lived.

As I grew older and had my own children, I was often held back by the fear of injury or worse, then I would remember my childhood and going head first off the high dive at our neighborhood pool. We did it all summer long, that might explain some of the migraines now, but still worth it. When the kids asked to sleep outside during the summer, we did, bedtime was non existent during the summer months and even an occasional school night if something fabulous was happening. We ate chocolate cake for dinner and Legos were always welcome at the table. It was great conversation. As my children grew older, I took every opportunity available to expand their world. We often would tag along with their father to different cities where he would go for work. I would spend the day with them exploring anything we could find. We floated the rapids in Colorado and wandered the streets of Mexico, sure we were lost but it was fun. My hope for them is that they love life and say YES to all it has to offer. My oldest, Damon, has recently graduated from college in Florida and my youngest, Meghan, is a freshman at the University of Central Florida now. They are both proving to be adventurous and creative.

As I saw the impending autonomy of my children, I began to pursue my college degree in photography and soon opened my own studio with the support of amazing friends, family and clients. I wanted to be someone my kids would be proud of. When they are little they want you to go to every field trip, room party, camp out, concert, cookie sale, etc. Which I happily did. Then something happens when they get older and start thinking about careers and college for themselves. They look at you and say Susie’s mom is a lawyer, what are you going to do? Those triple layer sprinkle cupcakes just aren’t making the magic that they used to.

I dove into school and photography head first and had and amazing time. I loved every part of it. I loved the creativity, the clients, the ever changing styles of each of my High School Senior clients. My daughter helped often and was my best photographer and designer.  I loved to hear about my client’s lives and what they were planning after graduation. It’s been a privilege to meet so many amazing people and be welcomed through a little window into their lives. I have even had the pleasure of photographing several of “my” senior’s weddings, younger siblings, and babies.

Along the way I have been embraced by so many of my creative colleagues. The photography community is an amazing group of sharing, expressive, talented, funny and lovely people. They push each other to try harder, think bigger, and express who you are through your work. Take the critiques like a big girl and learn. Never stop learning, or eating midnight tacos at Port Fonda.

If you have followed my blog or Facebook, you may have noticed that I have been hitting the “play” button very hard over the last year. Belgium, Paris, Nashville, The beach, St. Louis and every attraction in between. Last year, I was diagnosed with chronic LGL Leukemia. It was supposed to be a slow progressing disease with very little treatment and no cure. I knew I was getting sick and it was just a matter of time. I took my meds every week to slow the progression and decided to live my life. So yep, I flew in a few helicopters and a small plane. I loved the helicopter, but I can’t recommend the small plane ride as most of it was on the side doing figure eights to get the proper ground shots. I thought about just jumping out at one point to make it stop but I stuck it out for the 4 hour flight. Can you say trooper?  I rode to the top of the Eiffel Tower and ate Nutella and banana crepes at the foot of it. I will never forget! I saw my son graduate college and took my baby girl to her dorm in Florida. I saw my family in St. Louis as often as possible and kept in touch will old friends that I had been too busy for.  I sat in Nashville cafes at 3am and had coffee after photo shoots. I fell in love.

Until just recently I had managed to keep my studio up and running. I wanted, needed, something to look forward to when the meds started working and I would be well again. Unfortunately that is not the case. My disease has progressed and I have been re-diagnosed with a more aggressive form of Leukemia that I can’t remember that name of, and don’t really care to. I’m sure it’s written down somewhere. Anywho, chemotherapy starts Friday and will last 4-6 months. I have been surrounded by the most loving and supportive friends and family that anyone could ask for. I am in very good hands and looking forward to kicking some cancer ass. And you all know I will be getting a blue wig.

For now, Anna Dougherty Photography Studio is closed but I am happy to refer you to one of the very talented photographers in KC. If you are interested in getting an archive disk of a past photo session (it would be all your proofs, final edits, and whatever else I put in your folder) please contact me directly via email with your name and year of your shoot. I will be at home with my computer.

adphotog@gmail.com

www.adoughertyphoto.com

no phone calls please

Family Photo Sessions just in time for the Holidays!

Holiday mini shoots are here just in time for Holiday Gifts! Round up the family, even the furry ones and come to the studio for a Family Photo Session. The hours will be from 11am to 7pm Saturday and Sunday. Most sessions will be about an hour depending on the size of your family. The $25 session fee covers a family of 4, each additional member is $10. Family pets are welcome! Your Images will be available immediately after your shoot for ordering to ensure Christmas delivery.

The following link will take you to the online ordering page where you can prepay your session fee to reserve your spot. Just include your desired date and time and you will receive a confirmation email.

http://adougherty.photobiz.com/cart/product_detail.cfm?productID=184775&categoryID=3511

Thank You!

 

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