Lara’s Bell Ringing

When Tanya wrote me this letter I was in tears.  Tanya’s daughter Lara was diagnosed with Leukaemia 2.5 years ago.  Lara’s journey to end leukaemia treatment has been brutal but met with the greatest strength, courage and grace.  I am so honoured to have been invited to capture many memories for the bravest of the brave.  I am often bought to tears behind my camera having photographed births, deaths, funerals, illness and lots of love.  The day Lara rang her end of treatment bell was the happiest moment of my photography career and not a dry eye in the house! 

My words cannot adequately describe what it means to be able to offer families this gift of memories so I will let Tanya’s words do the work.  Thank-you for allowing me to share your words with the world Tanya.

“Tanya Allen 2/7/19”:

“I didn’t think about family photographs until I was desperately worried one of us may be missing from the frame. Before hearing the words ‘your daughter has leukaemia’ I didn’t appreciate the power of a photograph. I was always the girl who had such a great time soaking up the sun on the beach or the fun at a party that I’d completely forget to snap one photograph. I figured the moments were so beautiful I would surely remember them. What I know now is that memories are often not quite enough to completely take yourself back to a moment in time and that a photo is actually a hell of a lot more than an image.

When Lara was first diagnosed the beautiful Kate offered to come over and take some photos of the family. I was SO grateful. Lara’s looks had already begun to change. She had lost her healthy colour, had put on alarming amounts of weight from very high dose steroids and her curly blonde hair had begun to feel straw like and would soon fall out. I DESPERATELY wanted to remember the family we were before cancer – but that day Kate captured something far more important than the family we had been.

What Kate captured that day is the story we had begun to write for ourselves. Lara was facing 2.5 years chemo treatment. We had decided to live our story with optimism and determination and making the most of it. In the photos we’re together and we’re laughing which is how we had decided to tackle cancer. Photos from that day are so much more than images of my family, they fill me with the steely determinism we had decided to fake until it was real. 

The second time Kate photographed our family we were four months into treatment. Stunningly Lara hadn’t lost her hair yet and she had managed to avoid a feeding tube. These were extended family photos – my sisters and their families. These photos are SO much more than images of my family. They tell a story of a family facing a mountain, together. I look at these photos and I feel my family’s support and I feel soaked in their love and understanding. If the world wants at one of ours, they will have to get through 11 other people to get there.

Kate photographed us again yesterday. 800 days after Lara started treatment for Leukaemia she rang the bell. The bell ringing signals the end of treatment, it says I’m done and I’m safe. Our nearest friends and family who had supported us through those 800 days were in that room with us. Kate was there to make sure we have so much more than images. I haven’t seen them yet but I can already predict what Kate’s photos from yesterday will say to me. Kate’s photos will tell a story of love and endurance, family, friend family and our oncology family. They will say that tears speak many different emotions. When I look at the photos from yesterday I have no doubt that they will be far more than images to me. We will look at them and know we can get through the hardest of times and still dance.”

This is Lara’s favourite song.

Song credit: This is where it all begins – Summer Kennedy.  Licensed from Musicbed.