Her story is sad, her story is inspiring, her story is still going. She is strong and beautiful and has been through more than anyone should ever have. She is also not the only one to survive life like this, but her story is one I have gotten the honor of telling. While this is more of a summary of events and not every detail of her life long journey of surviving, but even in the briefest of tellings, it is strong and will hopefully give you insight and inspiration to fight through any obstacle and keep pushing forward even in the darkest of moments. This is not my story, but a short retelling of a woman's life events. Many are unspoken in this, and this initial post is to allow you to understand why Van did this shoot, why it was important and most importantly, to raise awareness for lymphoma, as well as open your eyes to the world outside of your bubble. Inspire you to make a change and help someone out there with a need greater than your own. Here is a bit of Van's story.
Van is a survivor, a survivor of life. It started when she was a young girl traveling on foot from Vietnam to Cambodia, then from Cambodia to Thailand, living in the jungle for 6 months, then the refugee camp (site 2) camp from 1986 to 1988. On her way between war stricken countries and no shoes, she endured what you would fear most for your children time and again, from a few different faces. She had to remain quiet while things happened to her and around her for the threat of her families lives were at stake. She had seen the threats fulfilled and knew better than to tell. She has scars internally and externally from her journey. Things her mind will never let go of. She crossed fields where bodies of soldiers lay and saw horrors you wouldn't dream a reality. After finally getting to her mother they traveled to another refugee camp in Phanatnikom, Thailand in 1988 to the Philippines. They stayed in the Philippines until 1989 where they came to America. It took her mother 5 years to pay back the airfare to America.
Her story doesn't stop there though. Being in america exposed her to new things like chicken pox which she had never had before. She got a very intense case which left scars all over her body and at 17 as a result of the chicken pox got Bells palsy which left half her face paralyzed and very self conscience. She tries not to smile too much because she doesn't like it-but her smile is beautiful.
In Feb of 2014, she was diagnosed with stage 4 non-hodgkins lymphoma. Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma to be exact. She was given a few months to live. She endured 6 rounds of chemo, R-CHOP 21, and had 5 blood transfusions And 2 platelet transfusions.She battled and still does, depression and genuinely thought about killing herself on a few occasions, but the thought of devastating her family and friends kept her going.
One of the chemo meds called Rituxan (rituximab) caused liver damage and liver cirrhosis. She need a liver transplant now but because of the cancer, she is not a candidate and will be on liver meds for the rest of her life. Chemo therapy released so much toxic in her heart, she is also diagnosed with congested heart failure.
Good news though: Just a few weeks ago was given results that she has 'clean' blood. Though she still has to keep her port in for another year and go every few weeks to have it cleaned out, she is thankful to be alive and to be ever present in this world. She is also an extremely positive person, despite everything. She is simply amazing.
She is beginning to build her self esteem back up, and I was able to offer her something to boost her, and give her a push. A styled beauty shoot. A local Tampa Bay dress shop, All Brides 2 Be, make up artist Bella Ti Artistry and my wonderful friend Lucy from Lucyna Aleksandra Portraits as my assistant that day, all came together to make this happen for her. She is beginning her training for marathon running again and getting in great shape like she used to be before the lymphoma diagnosis.
Her story breaks my heart and inspires me. When I told her she is the strongest person I have ever met, she looked at me and said no, I did what I had to, to survive.
Now you know a bit about her life journey, now meet the woman behind the journey. I introduce to you my friend Van. See more from her beautiful gallery here.
When speaking with Jessica from All brides 2 be, she asked what color dress i was seeking and I immediately thought red. Red is strong, bold and beautiful. It also plays very intensely into Asian cultures and symbolizes good luck as well as joy. Essentially the only color that was appropriate for her dress would be red. The first image Jess sent of the dress to me, was this one. I didn't need to see any other dresses, this was it. Refined and elegant, it was perfect for her.
I sent Van the picture of the dress and she cried tears of happiness. Her excitement didn't fade as the day came a few weeks later. Her nerves as any other person were on edge but she was excited. We drove out to New college in Sarasota after her hair and make up was done and began shooting. Mother nature attacked us a bit and threw lighting in the skies making the ground shake. She even dumped buckets of rain on us, but we waited her tantrum out and had the most beautiful day of photographing a most beautiful soul.