i often get asked what my most meaningful session has been,

and the answer is always the same. it's not one of my own children. it's not a wedding, even though i absolutely love them. it's not even my own grandmothers session, or an adoption (even though those are a close second). it is james.

i had recently started offering paid sessions, and i got a message from a friend who said someone she knew was facing something incredible - but they were having trouble finding a photographer to capture it. i gathered contact information & reached out as usual, but i was not prepared for the beautiful lesson that awaited me. through a series of messages, i learned of james. james had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at just 4 years old. his family was celebrating the end of three years of rigorous treatments, handfuls of medications & remission. when the family friend reached out to arrange this for james' parents, she mentioned that she had reached out to other photographers and was told that they didn't want to capture this, because it was "too sad". i was directed to a facebook page that had been created to document his progress. i realized very quickly that while it may be absolutely normal and expected to feel sadness for him, james' journey was rooted in joy. the name of his facebook page (James' Joyful Journey) is reflective of all that his family is.

i was informed that james believed the session was just a celebratory family session - he had no idea that the town had organized a whole parade to honor him. teachers, classmates, police officers, fire companies - all of the people who rooted for him had gathered together to surprise him. i was so nervous - am i worthy of such a life changing session? i had only been shooting professionally a short time - what if i messed something up?

when i showed up, i got out to introduce myself to james and his family. he was a totally normal 7 year old at first glance. you would have never known that he was wrapping up the hardest three years any child could face. he ran around the yard, he teased his sister & he was only a little thrilled about taking photos. he was curious & skeptical of who i was and why i was there. i watched him look at the photos of himself during treatment and ask his mom "do you remember this?" innocently. it was then that i realized he is a true superhero - and he didn't even realize it. of course, his mom remembered all too well. she had saved every medication bottle, photo - every memory - for "someday". this was a much better "someday" than they were initially preparing for. the odds said that i shouldn't have been standing there, meeting james, just over three years after his diagnosis. in fact, the odds said that james would likely only make it a week. that was in 2017. i was standing here, in 2020, with james and his family. i got stuck in that thought a couple of times during the two hours i was there.

i took photos of james with his big green gloves on, because he hulk-smashed cancer. i watched as orange sprinkles fell all over his head and he giggled. i shot through tears as he stood next to his mom and tore up the photos of himself in the beginning - symbolizing his rebirth. he sat on a custom made blanket, buried in hundreds of medication bottles, and threw them up in the air like confetti. you see, this was not a "look what has happened to me" moment. while the mental weight of all of those medications in front of me was almost unfathomable from a parents standpoint, that is not how james and his family treated it in this moment. for the first time in years, those medication containers were weightless. they were done. they symbolized life, and celebration. they no longer meant sickness, they meant health.

i had to fight back tears multiple times that day, but once we finished with the family photos, we secretly prepped for the parade. the first thing he saw was the police car, and he thought that was it. more cars came, more people hanging out the window yelling for him. he was waving excitedly at teachers and friends he hadn't seen in a long time. of course, the pandemic had just begun, so there were lots of air hugs and "we love you james!". the tears came then. i think james went back and forth from being in awe to excited about gifts, to "they're doing this all for me?"

just like that, we wrapped it up. i don't think i said much on the way home. i was simultaneously blown away by james' courage and strength, and empathetic for everything his parents had likely felt the last few years. how beautiful it was that he made it, that he was here, that his parents could breathe again. i said over and over "i couldn't imagine". i still say i couldn't imagine. not only is james a superhero, so are his parents and sister.

i am happy to report that as of today, a little over five years since his diagnosis and nearly two years since his last chemo treatment, james is still doing wonderful.

these are the stats of his treatment (taken from his page that i will link below)

1203 days of total treatment ...

1 bone marrow biopsy

1 port placement

1 port removal

1 episode of anaphylaxis

2 bone marrow aspirates

3 echocardiograms to make sure his heart wasn’t damaged from chemo

6 different types of chemo

13 units of blood

18 units of platelets

24 chemo shots…which were every two days

43 straight months of chemo

57 lumbar punctures with chemo

Hundreds of needle sticks

Several ER admissions

Countless hospital stays

181 IV chemo doses

370 doses of steroids

1076 days oral chemo (not counting pill quantity)

that day - i was the student, and james was the teacher. i believe that god led this family to me for a reason. they thought they needed my services, but i needed james' story. i needed to meet him and his family.

this link will take you to james' facebook page, where you can keep up with his fundraisers (he gives back to other kids with cancer) & his updates and learn more about his story.