It’s February, and since 2008, February with its cold days and naked gray trees always arrives with the reminder of how I felt 5 years ago when my husband was diagnosed with cancer–stage IV non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Sometimes I go there to the memory bank when I think I can handle it–because really there is so much good to remember of the helping hands, the support, and love shown us. And healing! Of course. But that fear never leaves, no matter how hard I pray, trust, and believe. There’s more to the story, but first I’d like to tell you about Magic Hour Foundation.
Magic Hour is a network of photographers across the country who donate their time and skill to capture cancer patients and their families during their treatment journey. The idea of the foundation was born out of the personal experiences of our friends, photographer Alan Darmody and his wife Alysa, who were moved after photographing two close friends right before they lost their battle with cancer. The photos they took served as happy, comforting reminders for the family left behind. Now the foundation serves those in the fight, celebrating the lives at the present and providing photos to cherish in the future.
Photographers can join the Magic Hour network–visit their website for information. Or, if you know a cancer patient who would love to have a photo session free of charge, Magic Hour also details how you can nominate individuals and families.
We had a weekend date at a petting zoo late last year with the Darmodys. Alan called me the day before to see if we wanted a mini-session for Magic Hour while at the zoo. My husband, who also happens to serve on the Magic Hour board, at the time had just completed radiation for a recurrence of the lymphoma but we had not yet received results of the treatment–anyone who has waited weeks, months for results knows the agony of the ticking clock. Anyway, we were in–even though I had an inch of gray growing out of my head and I just gave my son a horrendous haircut. Enter the cowboy hats.
Nothing wrong with a little cowboy nod from a family of displaced Texans. Okay, the littlest one was born in Georgia, but we’ll forgive him that slight and make him an honorary Lone Star native.
We love the photos Alan made. And, good news, if you are new here, my husband received a clean scan at the end of 2012. And my grateful heart once more is lifted up to my Father.
What strikes me the most about Alan’s photos is the maturity of our children. They were just 4, 2, and 5 months when their daddy was diagnosed. I could hardly allow myself to think about such little ones losing their father at that age. It filled my heart with the most suffocating pain.
I remember this night well. It was the first round of chemo for my husband, and he had collapsed in bed when we returned home. I bathed all the kids and piled them on my daughter’s bed, all clean and fresh. The older two were in such a goofy mood that night, laughing hysterically at anything. I tried to slip into their carefree moment while their father lay exhausted and nauseated in our room, but it was hard to, hard not to slip into what-ifs and whys. Instead of falling headlong into despair at that moment, I decided to take a handful of photos of them being silly on the bed. And, Lord, please give me one more moment with that baby’s chubby cheeks.
It wasn’t long after his first chemo round that his hair started to fall out. Like a lot of chemo patients, we decided to make a ceremony of shaving his head. His sister was in town, and she, along with me and the children, took turns with the clippers. I think he was more okay with it than I was. The bald head, that symbol of cancer, was finally physically making the disease known and there was no escaping the reality now.
Gradually his eyebrows and eyelashes thinned out, he became weaker, and every subsequent chemo round was harder and harder to take. He still plowed through work, God be praised; although many lunch breaks found him sprawled on the bedroom floor trying to regain energy for his afternoon of work. But good news was coming in. Lymph nodes were shrinking, and a June PET scan would show just how effective the treatment had been on a cancer that “lit up his body from head to toe like a Christmas tree”–as described by his oncologist.
And just as God promised me, the sickness “would soon end in joy,” the PET scan showed he was all clear, from head to toe. Oh, there was JOY. And, while we would have liked to have arrived at this February, his 5-year mark, cancerfree; he didn’t. But the recurrence was small and treatable. And we thank God for small and treatable. We thank God for everyday. We thank God for access to good doctors, good medicine, good nutrition, and good exercise.
The fact is we will live with this the rest of our lives. And, I’m sure you do, too. Cancer touches all of us, we all know or have lost someone dear to cancer. My father and grandfather, two heros of my childhood, both died from cancer. It is a fear and pain I know too well.
I hope you will pass on Magic Hour to those you know, photographers and/or patients, who might benefit from this generous service.