What man has ever said this after a photo shoot? “This weekend was life changing for me.”
Let me rewind first. Many months ago, I donated a family session to an IW Marks Children’s Cancer fundraiser. I had no idea who, if anyone had purchased it until several months later when I got a call from a woman named Brandi, who would forever change my life. She came in to see us for a consultation and from the moment she walked in our door, our lives became more enriched.
Brandi has an outgoing personality, a gorgeous smile and inviting warm eyes that made her an immediate friend. Within minutes of meeting we were laughing and sharing stories.
But remember, she won this session through a children’s cancer foundation so without having even heard it yet, I knew there would be a sad story hidden behind her laugher that would make my heart sting.
Brandi’s 10 year old son, Hunter, had been diagnosed with cancer 3 years ago and to this day is fighting for his cure. Early on it seemed like Hunter had something going on. His back was constantly aching, he started to lose his vision and hearing and the doctors found nothing. Time and time again, Brandi and Hunter were sent home without answers. After a trip to the Children’s Museum where Hunter was too tired and in too much pain to play, Brandi took serious action to find out what was at the core of her 7 year old baby’s pain. She made the bold decision to keep him out of school until they could find out what the problem was .
Despite pleading with doctors and nurses to search for answers, they continued to tell her nothing was wrong. Packaged as a petite, beautiful woman, Brandi is source of incredible strength and passion. Combine that with a fuse lit on her son’s health and the fighter within her would not lose this war. She refused to take no for an answer and FINALLY ended up in the care of the right doctor’s hands. A baseball sized tumor that should never have been missed by the other doctors was found on Hunter’s spine. He would have lost his legs and possibly his life if the tumor would have had any more days to grow in his body.
The details of their struggle from that day forward are what you would dread, yet expect from a story that you would never want to hear for any child or family. They are the experiences you won’t let yourself think of ever happening to you. They are sad, heart breaking days that are painful to hear about for someone else that make you grateful that it isn’t happening to you. But it IS happening for this beautiful family. It IS happening to far too many children around the world and for the first time in my life, it is happening to people that put faces, names and hearts to this terrible disease for me.
If this was my experience, I know myself well enough to know I would likely be hiding in a hole sobbing and waiting for someone to save me. But Brandi is different than any woman I’ve ever met. She fights her fight and works her hardest to make Hunter’s good days the best they can be. They take as many family trips as they can. They surf, play and live life to the absolute fullest for Hunter.
As Brandi told her story, she shared about the effects that facing cancer with a child have on the entire family. There are two other key players in their world that have been fighting right along side Brandi and Hunter. Her husband of 17 years, Frank has had to put his artistic, surfing, creative side on hold in order to work hard enough to pay for the hospital bills for Hunter. Her youngest son, Colton worships his big brother and has sacrificed a normal childhood to stay by his side.
She told me about the strain that cancer can put on a marriage and how easy it is to lose yourself and to forget to nurture your own soul when trying to save your son’s life.
When Brandi saw what we were doing with our photography, pampering women and making them feel spectacular, she knew she that it was time to do something for herself. She wanted beautiful pictures to surprise Frank with and after hearing her story, there was no way we were going to let either of her photo shoots be less than unbelievable.
We started planning like crazy. Brandi gave us some magazines with inspiring pictures flagged to plan for her shoot. Inspired by a room filled with red flowers, Gabe chopped down some of our Magnolia tree and we started painting it bright red. We had so much fun designing a one of a kind set to give Brandi one special day to take the time to just enjoy being herself. We brought in the fabulous hair stylist, Chantil Lewis-Garza who gave Brandi the royal treatment with her brilliant skills.
For the family session we decided we were not only going to do it with surf boards at the beach but we were going to make it a full weekend out of it. Brandi and Frank said that it may be tough to get Hunter to smile because the steroids and medications he has taken for 3 years have changed his personality and have made it harder to find his happiness on a daily basis. Not to mention, most 10 year old boys do not want to do a photo shoot!
I’m going to stop here and let the pictures themselves tell you the story of Brandi, Frank, Hunter and Colton, the greatest heroes I have ever met. They may have won our session in an auction, but I think we are the ones who truly won. We have new lifelong friends who have taught us so much about life, love and sacrifice in the short time that we’ve known each other. So when Frank said this experienced was life changing for him, that feeling is completely mutual!