My Story

*This is a super personal post. Today marks 4 years of me being in remission from Lymphoma. I put my story here into words, partly because I want to share my experience with anyone who has, is going, or possibly one day will go through what I did. Please feel free to skip over my little story here if you don’t want to see images of cancer stuff and whatnot. Pretty picture posts will resume tomorrow.:-)*

 

I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in March 2008, two days before my 24th birthday. I had known something was “wrong” with me for some time, so the news both shattered me and felt like a bit of a relief, finally knowing exactly what was wrong with me for the past several months. I had been coughing terribly, and experiencing chest pains and drenching night sweats. Upon receiving the diagnosis, I was terrified, angry, scared and yet, deep down, hopeful. I had just gotten engaged to my now amazing husband, and couldn’t picture having to pull my life to a screeching halt in order to treat cancer. The “c” word. I was stunned to realize that this word that I had mentally reserved for only the most deathly ill of patients was now MY label. Cancer patient. I was afraid of losing my hair and having people pity me. Poor cancer girl. I was afraid I could never have children after treatment. And then the worst of the what-ifs: what if there wasn’t an end to the treatment? What if there was no happy ending for me?

I really feared the doctor that I had been sent to after my diagnosis. A chilly bedside manner is an understatement for this character, so I knew I needed to find a doctor out there in this world that would at least give me a shred of hope and some understanding. Thankfully I found him, and he really gave me the encouragement that I could do this. I will never have enough wonderful words to say about this doctor. That’ll be my one bit of advice for anyone out there reading this and going through something similar – find a doctor you trust and LOVE. It’s purely psychological, as I’m sure the outcome would have likely been the same, but at the time it mattered SO much to me, and I really couldn’t imagine having taken a different route. But I digress…

Two days after my diagnosis phone call, my hubby-to-be presented me with my first DSLR camera, a Nikon D60, as a birthday present. I felt like it was such a ridiculous gift at that time and wanted him to return it right away. How could I celebrate at a time like this? Didn’t he know I was about to be bedridden for a VERY long time?! Would I even be able to muster the strength to click the shutter button? (I may have been a touch on the melodramatic side those days)

“Hold onto it for a bit,” he said, “you might just change your mind.” And I am oh so glad I did.

That camera was with me the day I walked into my first chemo, with my head held high (ok fine, ya got me, it was low low low). It was there to capture the first bit of Adriamycin flowing into my veins.

It followed me to the wig store as we explored my future hair options…

The D60 was there on my wedding day. We decided to get married just before I started treatment. I wanted my husband in the hospital room with me. I wanted to feel pretty on my special day.

It was there to see me shave off the rest of the thinning hair I had on my head a few weeks later. It was there to witness all of the realities of my treatment: the high spirited moments, and the difficult lows.

(I’m not sure what’s worse here. My awful receding hairline joke or hubby’s Ed Hardy t-shirt.:-P)

Cancer taught me the importance of eye makeup if you don’t have any hair. And that I had a pretty nice shaped head. And that no hair during the summer months is surprisingly refreshing.

There were days that I never got out of bed, sure. I became an avid QVC watcher (so what if the target age is the 75+ crowd? I was shopping in bed!). After every chemo treatment I carried myself up to the sign I had plastered on our living room wall listing the number of treatments left, and defiantly crossed each one off with a black sharpie. Marking my progress in a visual way made me feel some sense of accomplishment that everything was moving forward. And it was. That summer, July 17, my dr. announced to me after a recent scan that he considered me to be in remission. I was so surprised and unprepared at that moment that I remember just asking him if he was really sure. “Like really, really??!”

“Yes,” he smiled. I couldn’t believe that it had actually worked. The nausea, aches, anguish, everything. They weren’t in vain. I had conquered this! By that fall, I had finished chemotherapy and radiation, and was on my way to feeling like myself again. I knew I would never forget what I went through, but I also wanted to leave it in the past, and move forward with my life. I didn’t want to be looked at as a survivor, or a hero. I went through what I did because there simply was no other option. I never for a moment took for granted that others aren’t so lucky.

I continued to carry my D60 with me everywhere. It captured us in Maui at last, taking our long-awaited honeymoon in 2009.

It snapped away when we discovered I was pregnant, and chronicled my progressively growing belly. And yes, I was HUGE by the end!

It was there in the delivery room, when our perfect baby girl was born, and continues to watch her grow. It was with my daughter that I really learned what a valuable and incredible tool my camera is, and I began to appreciate all it could do. I mentioned here how my business was launched, when I finally decided to turn this little passion of mine into something more.

Though that little D60 is now in semi-retirement (I’ve since upgraded to the D700), I’ll never forget its humble beginnings. I’m sure it’s strange to have a sentimental attachment to an electronic item, but, well, he’s been with me through thick and thin, what can I say? Today I feel so incredibly blessed to have my health, an amazing little family, and a career that both excites me and feeds my soul. 2008 was the scariest time of my life, filled with so many unanswered questions. But I made it. As hard as it was, WE made it. It strengthened us and brought us to where we are today.

Photography for me is more than just “pretty pictures”. An image showcases a glimpse of life, each one telling a different story. It captures everything about that moment, good, bad, beautiful. It is so much more than a piece of paper or a digital file. It’s a record of your life, who you are, where you’ve come from. I use it to tell MY story, my family’s story. I do it because I also want to tell your family’s story, in a way that is meaningful, and will make you fall in love with your loved ones all over again.

Whew! If you’ve made it through my whole long post, I commend you! And thank you.:-)You are totally invited to my party next year commemorating 5 years (and officially being called “cured”!).

Mariel AlvarengaJuly 17, 2012 - 4:09 pm

Alex…I think I’m one of the few that still call you that

This was a beautiful post. I think your work is AMAZING! And, I often find myself lost in the photos that you take. Your daughter is adorable and your little family is super cute. Get it girl! You are doing something great! Look at what you’ve become! And, to think, we were merely nerdy little 6th graders who thought we were so cool listening to Tha Dogg Pound while rapping the lyrics to Dogg Pound Gangstaz. I apologize, in advance, for revealing that embarrassing tidbit of our elementary school days, but, I’d have to say, it was one of those memories of 6th grade that I’ll never forget.

Happy Remissionversary!

~Mariel

AlexandraJuly 18, 2012 - 8:40 am

Thank you so much Mariel. Who can forget tha dogg pound?! ;-)

Brenda FaulknerJuly 25, 2012 - 10:46 pm

Wow. Thank you for sharing. Your strength, your beauty and your talent. You are an inspriation and I am so happy you are healthy.

LauraAugust 21, 2012 - 6:37 pm

Feel upon your website and had to say thank you for sharing. My sister (also my second shooter) was diagnosed with NH Lymphoma in March and so we’ve been experiencing some of the same things you were sharing. You are absolutely inspiring and your daughter is gorgeous! Keep up with the beautiful photography!

Blessings,
Laura

MichelleSeptember 6, 2012 - 8:50 am

Just read this, what a beautiful story lex. Thank u to Adam for planting the seed to your ever growing amazing talent! Love you guys!

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