Class of 2017, senior portrait season is right around the corner and we are even more excited than usual! This year, we’ve created a new program for seniors portraits in the Beaver, Allegheny and Armstrong county area that we cannot wait to start! As some of you may know, last year was very rough for our family, but we are taking our experiences and struggles and turning them into a positive. Read on for Hannah’s (Jake’s younger sister) story and the reason behind Gifts from a Graduate.
“It was June, right after my sophomore year. The weather was finally warm and sunny. I had exciting plans for the summer with school finally being out. I had a couple of short trips to go on and planned to lounge in my pool and visit with friends and relatives. I did not realize it at the time, but in a few short weeks my life was about to change forever and very drastically.
I first noticed something was wrong with a lymph node in my neck. It rapidly swelled and was very painful. My mother, who was just recently diagnosed with uterine cancer, took me to the doctor’s where they did a needle biopsy to see if it was benign or cancerous. Prior to this time, I did not have much need to see doctors or have tests done, so I was very frightened at the prospect of a needle being poked into my neck. I remember my mother telling me to be strong like she was. I got through it, never truly thinking it could possibly be cancer. What were the odds of it being cancer after my mother was diagnosed with cancer only weeks before? For odds such as these, I would have preferred winning the lottery instead!
My official cancer diagnosis came at the most inopportune time. I was in the waiting room of West Penn Hospital as my mother was in surgery getting cancer removed. My dad received a call on his cell phone from the doctor who did the needle biopsy. It was lymphoma. When my dad told me the news, I literally laughed at the irony of my mother being in surgery having cancer removed and now I had cancer as well!
We had to hurry so treatment could begin, but they needed to determine exactly what kind of lymphoma It was. I had to go for a second biopsy, only this time it was a tissue biopsy that had to be taken while I was under anesthesia. I had never been under anesthesia before, so I was terrified at the fact of not being in control of my body. I was afraid for nothing because I do not even remember going under. However, I do remember waking up being okay and being relieved it was over. Since I was under the age of eighteen, I fortunately was scheduled to be seen at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh where my treatment would be started. This is an excellent hospital.
I’ll never forget my first trip to Children’s Hospital. My neighbor accompanied my mother and me because my father had to be at work that day. My mother needed another person to help her listen to what the doctor had to say so nothing was missed. We even recorded the doctor talking, with his permission, so my father could hear also. That day, I got the results for exactly what type of Lymphoma I had, which was Anaplastic Large-cell Lymphoma. This cancer is not common in my age group. It was a cancer old people usually have! On this visit, my doctor examined me and began setting up a plan for battle. I had to go under anesthesia again! I needed a PIC line placed before a port because the tumors had grown so large my skin was stretching and breaking and it could have literally collapsed my esophagus at any time while I was under. Also, they had to get spinal fluid and bone marrow to make sure cancer was not in those areas. Fortunately, I later found out there was no cancer in my spinal fluid or bone marrow. I would start chemotherapy right away in the next few days, thus making the cancer shrink in my neck so I could eventually get a port placed. A port is where the chemotherapy would go into my body. I was so worried about losing my hair! I look back now and think how ridiculous I was for worrying about something so insignificant.
It turned out, my mother and I would start chemotherapy right around the same time. The difference between our treatments is my mother did not have to be hospitalized for a week at a time like I had to be every two weeks or so. I’ll never forget my first chemotherapy. It felt so strange knowing poison was going into my body. I did not know if the poison would kill the cancer or not. I really did not know what to expect. I had heard people get very sick during chemotherapy. All of these thoughts raced through my mind. I was numb.
I had to have eighteen weeks total of chemotherapy, which meant I would have six rounds of chemotherapy. During my stays in the hospital I could not really eat without feeling sick. The nurses were great in helping me to feel better. They would come in at all hours of the night to give me medicine, chemotherapy, or to just check on me. I slept a lot because I did not have energy. Chemotherapy has a way of dragging you down, although I tried to keep my spirits up during this rough time. A lot of the time my mother would stay overnight when she could to keep me company. We were both experiencing the same things so in a way I found that comforting. Sometimes even my friends would come to visit to keep me company as well. They would bring me food from the “outside” because I got to the point where I could not even tolerate smelling hospital food.
During my treatment, the community rallied behind me and my mother as we fought cancer together. They held fund raisers to help with the expenses that were piling on top of us. The first event was a spaghetti dinner and the second event was a rock band playing at a fire hall. I was unable to attend either of these events because I was hospitalized during both. People I did not even know sent cards in the mail. The community was absolutely amazing! It taught me that most people are kind and caring, wanting to help in a bad situation.
After six months of major trials fighting cancer, I was deemed in remission on January 15, 2016. My mother had been deemed in remission only a few weeks prior. I had mentioned above about winning the lottery. Both of us getting deemed in remission was like actually winning it. You just had to work and fight for it, which is another thing that I learned through this process. You have to work hard for what you want. You have to keep your faith strong. Without keeping my faith strong through this, I’m not sure I would be where I am today.
I have significantly changed through the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, along with friends and family changing as well. Battling cancer has been one of the most life changing experiences I have ever had. I do not feel I would be the person I am today without having experienced cancer, right alongside of my mother.”
All throughout their fight, Hannah and Carrie pledged to help those who are fighting against cancer. As soon as they are 100% again, they will be visiting patients and helping them through their journeys! Jake and I wanted to volunteer as well but since we don’t have the full experience of going through chemotherapy and being stuck in hospitals for weeks at a time, we knew we couldn’t join them in that way. But we came up with our own way that includes the community! After some major brainstorming, we created Gifts from a Graduate. When you place a professional print order for your senior portraits, we will be taking all the proceeds straight to the toy store to get some awesome toys for kids at Children’s!
Children’s Hospital has a special place in our hearts for all the compassion and help they’ve provided Hannah and our family, and of course every other family out there. We cannot thank them enough for their endless work to make sure each patient is beyond cared for and comfortable. They do such an amazing job at comforting these strong kids and we cannot wait to help them do so! When you schedule your senior portrait session with E&J Photographers, not only will you get beautiful customized photos of one of the most exciting milestones of your life, but you will be providing smiles and fun to kids during their long stays at Children’s Hospital! Contact us today to get your session booked and to be a part of this amazing program!