Princess Alexis! | Cancer Remission Celebration Session | Northern Michigan Photographer

September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, and in honor of Princess Alexis, I wanted to help bring awareness by sharing some of her story. This photo session took place in August 2017, with the ripeness of summer warmth helping us celebrate her incredible new diagnosis: REMISSION.  What a beautiful, wonderful, splendid word! I wanted to make her feel like a fairy tale princess, so I rented this spectacular Cinderella dress from Anna Triant Couture that Alexis picked out, and we drove out to The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, with it’s spires and golden brick castleish beauty before heading to the beach at Clinch Park and downtown Traverse City.

Alexis is a cancer warrior, but for this one night she wasn’t a little girl in remission, with surgery scars and an old soul, she was simply a princess, believing her dreams will all come true! I had grandiose ideas of poses and places, but honestly, I barely got a handful of images of her looking and smiling. She was in her own world, twirling and dancing, talking a mile a minute, running here and there with me trying to keep up. I finally gave in and just let her be a princess. Like she was always meant to be.

Day after surgery, Sept 1, 2010. Elmo has been right there beside her through it all, with tape on his face like Alexis had for her feeding tube! *thank you to Alexis’s mom for sharing these pictures with us!

Alexis: “Did you know that EVERY year on Halloween, and I mean EVERY one of my EIGHT Halloweens, I have been Cinderella?!”

Girl, you don’t need a Prince Charming or a Fairy Godmother, you were BORN a Warrior Princess!

Every day, 43 kids are diagnosed with cancer. Despite the advances in research and treatment, those numbers continue to rise. More than 40,000 kids will undergo treatment for cancer this year. One out of 8 will not survive.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t even write those words without crying.

“My baby girl had to learn to walk in a hospital. She learned her alphabet in a rocking chair with IV lines across her lap..”, her mother recalls. *Picture courtesy of Alexis’s mom.

The average age of diagnosis is 6. Kindergarten age.

Alexis was 14 months when her parents found themselves in a nightmare that they couldn’t wake up from. Walking into the ER with a sick baby, it was then a whirlwind of tests, scans, and the sobering reality of stage 4 neuroblastoma. They didn’t go home for 44 days. And that was just the beginning.

If you’re like me you’re wondering, what can I do? How can I help? First, pray for these kids and their families. Second, get in touch with your nearest children’s hospital. I guarantee there is a link on the website to either donate or volunteer. Check it out. Ask yourself honestly what you can do to make things better with the resources you have. Get involved. GO now.

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I’m hoping to bring awareness to childhood cancer. But the reality is that no amount of statistics and numbers can really reach you. It’s the stories. The faces. The families struggling to bring some sense of normal back to the lives of their children who are so sick. Hoping the nightmare will end. Praying the pain will stop because watching your child in agonizing pain is a special kind of hell.

In the beginning of the journey lots of people offer help, stop by, bringing food or gifts, trying to find ways to comfort, but often they grow discouraged or feel helpless when the fight drags on.

I remember when my son was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect and we went through the process of corrective heart surgery, tons of doctors appointments, driving all over, plus having an infant and toddler to care for felt overwhelming. It was nice when well-meaning people would ask me how they could help, or to “let them know” if I needed anything, but my mind would go absolutely blank. I couldn’t organize my thoughts into broad helpful ideas, much less concise instructions or particular needs. At times the burden of asking for help when I was such a mess was simply additional weight on my shoulders.

A family dealing with a child who is fighting cancer goes through something much more intense than what we experienced. With a much longer time frame of appointments, hospital stays, restrictions on visitors and an unforgiving need to prevent germs and infections.

Start by asking “How can I help you?” If you get the deer-in-the-headlight look, try more specific questions, like “Can I bring you a hot meal tomorrow for dinner or one to put in the freezer for later?”, or “Is there a day this week that I can come pick up the other kids and take them to the park or keep them all day so you can rest and focus?”

Think of what you know about their particular situation and possible difficulties and ask specific questions. Don’t feel bad if they don’t respond right away or not at all. It’s not personal. They’re just overwhelmed and trying to survive.

A few things that are ALWAYS helpful:
Gift Cards. Think Wal-Mart, grocery stores, and gas cards.
Home cooked meals.
Hugs.
Prayers.

Hospital life is not only emotionally exhausting, it’s expensive. It’s being away from home for weeks on end. The meals aren’t free and sometimes aren’t very good. Driving back and forth to take care of your responsibilities at home takes money for gas. And then there’s the time off work and the loss of pay. As if your child being sick isn’t devastating enough. Gift cards might feel too impersonal, but they relieve some of that very real financial burden.

If you do not know someone personally who is going through this, I hope these stories touch your heart and that you donate to organizations or take the time to volunteer!

Alexis was in the fight of her life for far too long, but is officially in remission since July 2017!

“We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.” ~Winston Churchill

We balk at suffering. We hate it, turn away from it, close our eyes and refuse to see it, until it’s someone next to us. It makes us feel helpless and we seek comfort, peace, and safety so hard that it blinds us.

We’re terrified of suffering, and in our blindness we fail to see that suffering has power. It’s never wasted. From the ashes of their innocence these children rise up as warriors, full of hope, strength, purpose, and a passion for helping their fellow sufferers. Listen to their stories. Empower their dreams. Support the supporters.

“Alexis, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I. Have. OPTIONS.”

Tears sprang to my eyes with the fierceness in her voice as she said those words. The world in front of me blurred as I struggled to find my voice again. I couldn’t see through my viewfinder, so I set the camera down on my lap.

“What options are your favorite ones to think about right now?”

“Umm….let’s see…”, she pondered, expressive eyes looking all around. “I have SO many options! I could be a mountain climber, or an artist, or a swimming instructor, or a veterinarian! I love to paint! And actually…..I am already a mountain climber. I’ve climbed up Papa Mitch lots of times!”

Her words, spoken with such conviction, such hope…. left me speechless, my heart squeezing tightly as I watched her flutter off in her princess gown, back to her twirling.

Her life hung in the balance for so very long.

And I’m not just talking about the chemo, radiation, surgery, and immunotherapy that required every ounce of her energy to fight for her life daily for a over a year.

I’m talking about relapse. At the time of her diagnosis, the statistics were beyond grim. If she survived the initial horror of neuroblastoma and treatment, the rate of relapse was high.

“Approximately 50-60% of high-risk neuroblastoma patients will have a relapse. There is no cure for relapsed neuroblastoma.” *Journal of Medicine, 2010.

Yes, her life hung in the balance for far longer than just the treatment. Hope for a future is a very precious thing. Every time she went in for scans her family held their breath, praying, begging, daring to hope as each scan came back clean. When she entered into remission this summer they could finally speak of her future in terms of years instead of months. Hope! Sweet, wonderful hope.

Take hold of those dreams, Alexis, and NEVER let go! Keep reaching for those stars and climbing those mountains. We can’t wait to see how far you’ll go!

“A dream is a wish your heart makes
When you’re fast asleep
In dreams you will lose your heartaches
Whatever you wish for, you keep
Have faith in your dreams and someday
Your rainbow will come smiling through
No matter how your heart is grieving
If you keep on believing
The dream that you wish will come true”
~Cinderella

“Can I please please please take some pictures?! I just want to see it. Is this how you do it?” I. Could. Not. Say. NO. To. Her. Until she started twirling with the camera. 😉

I want to say a special thank you to Alexis’s mom, who shared these precious pictures of what life with pediatric cancer looked like. She opened up about the many struggles and fears of that time, and I still can’t read those words without choking up. What I’ve shared here was just the tip of the iceberg for her family, she could write a book about all that they’ve been through! Just take a moment, please, and say a prayer for those families caught up in the fight for life against pediatric cancers. Reach out to one of the many organizations that support these families and find out how you can support someone who needs your help.

 

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S. Family | Blooming Orchard Mini Session | Northern Michigan Photographer

I just LOVE spring blooming orchard pictures! I can’t wait for this year’s warm weather to pop open those beautiful, heavenly white blossoms!

Kari, the incredibly talented artist at August Afternoon Photography is such an amazing person who inspires me so much! I love her to death and look forward to the times we get to work together! Especially when that means I get to capture her and her sweet family!

Our spring pictures last year had two very special assignments:

  1. Mommy and Me pictures – turns out, photographers tend to have a ton of pictures of their kids, but, like zero pictures of Mom with those precious kiddos!
  2.  Scroll down to see the other ADORABLE announcement they got to make!

*spoiler alert! Baby brother was born in December 2017! (I’m constantly behind on this blogging thing!)

 

Birthday Portraits | Elayna | Michigan Outdoor Photographer

Every little girl DREAMS of being a princess! Vibrant dreams of ballgowns and tiaras, twirling around and around in beautiful flights of fancy. img_2646-edit-full-copy

What better way to make a little bit of that dream come true than by renting a gorgeous gown for a 9th birthday photo shoot! Elayna chose this blue dress by fancy frock-maker Dollcake and we rented it from Rainey’s Closet. She couldn’t WAIT for the dress to arriveand twirled around with a huge grin when she was finally able to put it on!

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Her May birthday lines up perfectly with cherry blossom time when the Grand Traverse Bay region is frothy with orchards blooming all around! It’s the perfect setting for a birthday portrait straight from her best dreams.

Make a wish, Birthday Girl!

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Just at sunset, we went down the hill to a field of beautiful yellow flowers (her favorite color!) where she was especially happy to spend a few minutes.

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This girl is on fire! 😀

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A Top Ten Feature!

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Last week I had the honor of being featured in  {Top Ten | Yellow}  over at  Jackie Jean’s blog! The blog post can be found here at shopjeanphotography.com

If you are not familiar with Jackie Jean Photography, she has a fantastic website full of resources for photographers, including actions, presets, overlays, and workshops. She also hosts a wonderfully supportive group on facebook where photographers can share their work and enter the weekly Top Ten challenges.

 

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This picture is one of my absolute favorites, and it’s an honor to see it recognized in the Top Ten! Thank you Jackie!

A Family | Fall Photo Session | Northern Michigan Photographer

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It was such a pleasure getting to know the Allen’s on a beautiful fall day last October! Well, actually, make that two days in October! Our first session was marked with tears and babies who weren’t feeling the best. So we got together again with great results! Sometimes a little extra time spent with my clients makes all the difference, and I’m so glad we could all find time in our schedules to make these special family portraits happen!

 

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Couple In Love Autumn Color Leaves Beautiful Northern Michigan

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I loved seeing their wall portraits and gift prints ready for delivery!

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Interested in a Fall Family Session this year? Call now (231-620-2505) or email me (riverainsphotography@gmail.com) to book your appointment with Riverains Photography! Sessions are limited and October in Northern Michigan is the prime time for family portraits!

Back To School | Northern Michigan Photographer

September brought warm, golden days and the beginning of our fifth year homeschooling. Life is busy! Some days feel like they drag on and on and like the struggles will never end. And then there are days where you notice just how quickly your babies are growing up, and in between tears you try to capture the moment before it’s gone.

These are some of my very favorite images of my children.

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What about the youngest, you say? Where are the pictures of her? Well, this is exactly how cooperative she was that day. Photographer Kid Syndrome. It’s real.

Family Portraits | Grandma Liz and Her 10 Grandkids | Riverains On The Road

Last summer we had the chance to make the long drive from Michigan to Washington, where I grew up. My parents and my brothers still live near my hometown, along with their families. What a blessing it was to spend time with family! My kids had the chance to meet a couple of new cousins and we all had the chance to reconnect. We had incredible adventures and made memories to last a lifetime!

On one of those glorious, sunny afternoons, we took a few moments to capture each child with “Grandma Snicklefritz”. Tell me, if you are a grandma, or if you have a grandma that you love dearly (or that you’ve lost and now you miss her) how great, how special would images like this be to you? Take some time to make images like this happen. Get in front of the camera! Put down the reasons to do it later and do it while you have the chance. I guarantee these are the pictures you will look back on with joy.

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Michael's family

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Jake family

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Northern Michigan Photographer | Anna & Maddie | Summer Sisters

Kristen and I got together for a quick sunset session in June at our farm with these gorgeous girls. Just look at those sweet faces! They were really not thrilled about taking pictures that evening, but we managed to wrangle some adorable smiles from them and these images remain some of my absolute favorites. I love these little gals, their family are like family to us!

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Enjoy the video – but please don’t forget to change the quality to the highest setting for better viewing.

Northern Michigan Natural Light Studio: The H. Family

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Sweet baby D. joined her parents in February and we split her newborn session into two parts, a sweet little sleepy babe session in their home and later, a bit of time with all three of them as a family in a natural light studio setup. I love the simplicity of the clean, crisp white wardrobe with neutral backdrop. We had a wonderful time capturing this special time and we made two gorgeous canvases, two custom designed albums, and her birth announcements from these images. Keepsakes that will last a lifetime and beyond!

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Holiday Mini – Home for Christmas in Northern Michigan!

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Christmas. What a wonderful time of year! It’s already September and time to think about Christmas cards and how to fit everything fun into the schedule! Cookie making! Snowball fights! Hot chocolate! Holiday movie nights! I love it all. I can’t wait for Christmas time again, and being a mom to four wonderful kids makes this time of year just that much more enjoyable as I watch their delight.
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Most years I have opted for Christmas jammies for our fun holiday pictures. This year I decided to go dressier with their wardrobe, but much more casual in the way I approached our setting. So this is our real Christmas tree, in our real living room, with the decorations left exactly where the kids placed them on the tree when they helped decorate, and paper snowflakes taped to the wall where they landed on the day we spent creating a huge confetti disaster in the living room. For me, there is something special about these images because of those real-life details. Pieces of life at this moment with these kids.

 

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Of course, we were joined by cousin Levi for some Christmas pictures of him in that memorable moment in between a full set of teeth! I’m sure he got really sick of hearing people sing, “All I Want For Christmas…..” but how can anyone help it with a toothless grin like that?! It’s a timeless capture of these childhood moments.

 

 

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I now have a gorgeous canvas on my wall of these kids, and it makes me so happy every time I look at it! I don’t even care that it’s a Christmas picture with a tree in it, I keep it up all year and enjoy the magic of the season as I anticipate this year’s celebrations. Are you ready for the holiday season to come? Thinking about Christmas traditions and capturing the memories with your family? Call me!

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