I met Jenn, her husband Andrew and their spunky son Ari in the fall of 2012. Her Go Fund Me site was published on a local email group and I contacted her to see if she would be interested in a free family shoot. Jenn was a freelance opera singer who had been diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer at age 32, only 6 months prior to our first shoot. Ari had just turned two when I first met with them on a beautiful fall afternoon. Jenn had undergone major spinal surgery as she had metastatic tumors that were compressing her spinal cord. At that time she also had radiation treatment, hormonal treatment, as well as some chemotherapy. It took months of physical therapy to recover from surgery and overcome the numerous stress fractures throughout her spine. At the time of that shoot in 2012, Jenn was relatively stable with her treatment, but certainly processing a lot emotionally.
In the summer of 2013, after Jenn's 33rd birthday, a large metastatic tumor was discovered growing from the lining of her brain. She was rushed into intense radiation treatment every day for the month of July, which was successful in killing that tumor. Jenn lost her hair during that time and was completely bald for the rest of 2013. Our second shoot was right after she finished brain radiation. She was on high doses of steroids, which caused her to gain an abnormal amount of weight and for "my face to blow up like a balloon!" Jenn wore head scarves to cover her baldness. In Jenn's words..."the rest of 2013 was a disaster. We tried 5 different chemo treatments which did nothing but allow my cancer to progress. The doctors discovered innumerable metastatic tumors throughout my liver. My bone mets also progressed to the point that I needed radiation for my left hip due to the intense pain and to prevent fracture." Despite the intense pain she was going through, she brought laughter, hope, a unwavering love for her family and joy!
Our third shoot was in February of 2014...the year began with some good news. Jenn's latest chemo was Xeloda, and it brought down her tumor markers. The oral chemo was easier with it's side effects and it allowed a little hair growth to finally start coming in. To celebrate, she dyed it pink! After a brutal six months, Jenn felt a sense of hope again on her second “cancerversary”. Jenn knew that she would never be ‘cured’ but considered herself a ‘survivor’ and a ‘thriver’.
Jenn was steadfast in keeping a blog during her treatment and in July of 2014 it was clear that the treatments were no longer working. I reached out to her husband via text to ask if there was anything I could provide for them. 15 minutes later, I received an email from Andrew letting me know that Jenn's courageous battle against cancer was coming to an end, and did I want to document her last days. I thought for sure he had read my text, but as it turned our messages crossed paths in cyberspace but neither of us knew the other had reached out. A quick phone call and I was in my car and at their home in a half hour. It's impossible to describe the sadness, the quiet, the darkness, and the incredible love Jenn was surrounded with in those last hours. She let go peacefully shortly after I left, to say that she touched my life with her courage, wit, profound love for her family and hope in the face insurmountable odds doesn't do her life justice, but sometimes words are not enough.
Jenn orchestrated her own Celebration of Life service.
If you or a loved is fighting a life threatening illness, please contact me at [email protected]
©audrey deWys photography 2023