I traveled to New York last weekend for a different kind of trip. To see someone special to me.
This is my friend, Andrea from California and her daughter, Mae, at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
I met Andrea while working on MTV's The Real World: Austin. We spent two seasons on the show together and then lived together in Philadelphia for a few months while working on a film there. She was one of those friends I had always felt a special connection with even though we lived so far apart and didn't speak that often. I always admired her strength and independence and have spent much of the past few years working toward that.
With the distance, it has been a struggle to see Andrea. I always needed to do something for work or needed to save money for something going on in my life. I haven't seen Andrea in almost 10 years. Since then she's had two beautiful girls who I have watched grow up on Facebook.
I recently received a text message from Andrea saying she would be in New York for Mae's treatment. Mae has stage 4 neuroblastoma, which is a rare form of cancer that develops in infants and children. She is two years old.
An hour train ride and I'm in New York. I snap some shots of the city as I try to catch a cab which is taking forever, but I don't get upset about it. The theme for today is perspective.
I pick up Bamboo Sushi and Baked by Melissa mini cupcakes to bring to the room. I've never seen those cupcakes fail to put a smile on anyone's face.
I arrive at the center and enter the building. On the outside of these walls, lives a bustling city filled with people and tourists rushing to get to work, to climb their ladders, to drink their coffee, to catch a train, to see the sites, to live their everyday lives and figure out their everyday problems.
On the inside of these walls, lives Andrea and Mae.
From the entrance to the elevator, it looks and feels like a typical hospital. Upon exiting the elevator on the 9th floor, I am immediately overcome with emotion. Children's colorings and drawings cover the walls. Some cover the windows to the patient care rooms. Children in beds with their IVs are being pushed through the halls. I pass a playroom with toys and crafts and paints and musical instruments. I see a patient sleeping in one of her rooms. She has no hair, no eyebrows, no color in her skin. She looks to be about twelve years old. Her mother sits over her, watching.
I arrive to Mae's room. Seeing Andrea is wonderful. She's as beautiful as ever. Mae is up and moving and playing with Bubbie on the floor.
We eat our sushi and catch up on life. Mae does her best to eat some rice and edamame and manages to lick some of the icing off of two cupcakes before giving the rest to mom. Maybe it looked better than it tasted to her. Andrea tells me Mae hasn't eaten in four days.
We go for a walk and I reflect on where I am.
We head to the playroom. Andrea tells me about the process and her journey so far. I am floored and amazed by her and by Mae. It's crazy how much light can shine through a situation so terrifying.
I watch Andrea and Mae paint together. I think the bond between a mother and her daughter might be the most beautiful thing in the world. Does anything else matter?
I take this photo of Mae before we leave to head back to the room. I've never seen a look like that in any other person's eyes in my life.
We spend the rest of the evening monitoring her medicine and watching DVDs and catching up as friends. At one point Andrea asks, "How can a 2-year-old have cancer?" I can't get that question out of my head.
The following day I take the train home. Lots of time for thinking. Touched is not the right word...
I can't get the look in Mae's eyes out of my head either. I'm editing photos. I'm writing this post. This is my way of saying a prayer, I suppose.
Andrea and Mae will return to New York in a month for another set of treatment. I will visit again and again and I won't forget this day when I met Mae. Looking back at these photos, I will always be reminded how fragile we are and how unpredictable life is. And that despite how strong and independent we think we are and we think we need to be, there will come a time when we realize, all we really need is each other.
Andrea lives in California with her husband, Scott and her two daughters, Mae and Mika. You can follow Mae's journey on Facebook here.
To show your support for the family and little Mae, you can make a contribution to Mae's Journey Fund here.