For the past ten years, I have been an avid writer. For the past five years, I have sharpened my skills as a photographer. And now, for the past two years, I have also taken on the title of cancer survivor. It seems fitting then that these three identities converged in a forgotten poem I wrote late one night in the midst of the worst of my chemotherapy treatments. Saturday was the two-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, so in a sort of reverent reminiscence, I was going through some old journals and notes, and I happened to stumble upon this:
"In this photograph,
The clothes don't matter.
The setting is irrelevant.
The lighting is secondary.
Whether the people are all smiling or not,
Whether we're all looking the same way...
It doesn't matter.
The thing that makes this worn, old photo
So dearly special
Is simply the fact that we're all in it-
Healthy, together, and loving.
This photograph is proof that we are blessed.
That is what makes for photographic excellence.
Because somewhere along the line,
It stopped being about looking good,
And started being about realizing we have it good.
To carry evidence of that amazing truth
In a 3x5 wallet sized card...
Now that is artwork at its finest."
The poem was written down hastily, as if I hadn't given it much previous thought, yet it just seemed to flow out of me like the many tears I had cried during those difficult days. The funny thing is, I cannot for the life of me seem to think of which photo this poem was written about (chalk it up to chemo brain, I guess). But as I sit here and reflect on the past two years of my life that almost were not a reality, all I can think of is how incredibly thankful I am to be on this side of them. Yes, this side of nearing the end of chemotherapy is a relief in many ways (and yet oddly enough, my biggest anxiety, too), but that is not what I am talking about.
As a photographer, I aim to create beautiful images where the lighting and the composition perfectly frame the subject in an artfully crafted way. However, my focus has shifted from the creation of a flawless finished product and more towards the natural beauty of what is really being captured... the gift of life.
I am so thankful to have become the person I am now, two years later. But, I will never thank cancer nor ever think of it as a gift. I hate cancer with every white blood cell in my body that it continually tries to take over... make no mistake about that. However, I can step back from my hatred of the disease long enough to gain some perspective on the person I have become not because of it, but in spite of it. This experience has fundamentally changed my life, and while I would gladly be rid of the countless blood infusions, chemotherapy injections, procedures, pills and side effects, I can honestly say I like my life a whole lot more now than I ever did when I was healthy.
I appreciate the people in my life so much more now, whether they're part of the family I fiercely love and am loved by, the friends who have dearly blessed me, or the seemingly random strangers who have passed through my life just long enough to irrevocably change me for the better. All these people have touched my life and made it worth living, even during the times it felt like I wasn't really living anymore.
While my inherent perfectionism still sticks to my being like gum on the bottom of a shoe, I think I've finally started living out the line, "It stopped being about looking good, and started being about realizing [I] have it good." Yes, my life is messy and sometimes I fail and make mistakes and have emotional breakdowns.
But when I take camera lens focus off myself and direct it at the people in my life, I realize that my life is about so much more than just me. My cancer treatment has been a team effort, and I believe life works the same way, too. This photograph -this life- is not about the perfection of the moment you've carefully crafted for yourself, but rather about the people who are in that moment with you. They are what make it perfect. They are what make it a masterpiece. And by that measure, I can proudly say I have been blessed with a truly beautiful life.