” I am not living with Mets, I am thriving with mets. How can I not share my blessing with the world! It is untraditional to the medical community that someone at first diagnosis be classified at 4th stage and then be offered surgery to beat it. I tell you my Spirit will not rest until all people who have fourth stage cancer be offered a chance to thrive. I am so blessed to be part of the Grace Project a place to share my voice with a photo. To show the world the Grace God has given me, and what he has done for me to be able to thrive with an incurable disease. Now I ask you doesn’t everyone deserve this?” – Julie Cook.
About four years ago I got a call from a woman in Missouri Valley Iowa. “Hi, my name is Julie, how can I be photographed for the Grace project?” She mentioned that she was a stage iv breast cancer survivor and that her boss Cathy was also a survivor and would most likely be willing to be photographed.
I could shoot her here in NY, or if there were other women in her region that wanted to be photographed, I could eventually get out there to Missouri Valley. Before I knew it, Julie had announced on facebook something along the lines of: “Hallelujah, God is Grace, We have been invited to be part of this beautiful project called the Grace project. It empowers women with breast cancer by revealing their scars in a beautiful way… Praise God.” but I could hear the excitement in the tapping of her keyboard as I read her post. How could I ignore this enthusiasm. It was pure joy. I knew without a doubt that I had to make it out to Missouri Valley to meet these two women.
Two years later we embarked on a road trip through the midwest to photograph women for the project, exhibit the portraits and do artist talks along the way and a plan to visit Missouri Valley, Iowa to photograph Julie and Cathy. Our friend and author Amy Ferris had been doing a writing workshop in Kentucky so we combined her workshop with a gorgeous fundraising event at New Riff distillery and raised the funds for an epic road trip that would become known as ‘The Grace Glitter Tour”. Our friend Kisha, a stage iv breast cancer Goddess had a bucket list wish to travel with me, Joules and her BFF Star on a Grace project road trip. So, along with the funds that were raised and a generous donation from the Karen Wellington Foundation that provided Kisha with travel money, we four women squished into “Sardine” (my Green Honda) along with photo equipment, the Grace project exhibition and the clothes shoes and accoutrements of four women for an epic but very gruelling road trip.
Traveling like this was not easy. And especially not for Kisha. Kisha had metastasis to her bones as well as muscular sclerosis and the 7 hour drive from St Louis, Missouri to Omaha, Nebraska became a somewhat of a painful 10 or 12 hour drive with multiple bathroom stops along the way for leg stretches and of course bemusing the locals at all of the Gas Stations we stopped at. Finally we arrived exhausted and spent from our journey but found ourselves at magical healing space called White Deer Retreat at around 2am. We were welcomed by a woman that I could only describe as an angel (for more reasons than that she had patiently awaited till 2am for our arrival).
The next morning an excited and early a.m. call from Julie to tell me I needed to hurry up as her boss Cathy had to leave for work and if I didn’t get there, she wouldn’t get to be photographed. Unable to rouse my travel partners I dragged myself out of bed. Showerless, coffeeless and with the crust of yesterday’s make-up, I jumped in the car with great excitement to finally meet this woman that I had grown so fond of, but was yet to meet in person.
On arrival I was shocked to see television cameras pointed at my car… yes, Julie had arranged for the local ABC station to film our shoot along with the Missouri Valley times who would be interviewing and covering our shoot. I panicked.. frantically rubbing yesterday’s mascara from beneath my eyes and fluffing up my hair in the car’s rearview mirror… but then I had to remind myself who am I kidding… I’m trying to teach women about self acceptance… this is me, right now… as is…. no make-up, messy hair.. Oh okay… here I come tv land!
I got out of the car and hugged Julies tiny little body tightly. She was birdlike, fragile, and had decorated her one of her eyes with glitter. It felt good to hold that physical person, this person who had become my friend through phone calls and facebook interactions.
To see my tv meeting with Julie: CLICK HERE
After our shoot Julie came back to white deer retreat where she met her Grace Goddess sisters… we spent an idyllic afternoon at White Deer retreat, taking photographs, being interviewed by a young journalist named Jesusa… hugging trees and simply loving each other. This tree was named the hugging tree. The blonde on the left is Starling, then Kisha (bald), Julie and then me. Perhaps Joules took the photo… or Jesusa, I don’t remember.
Today I post this picture below that you so aptly title “Saying goodbye” as we left you behind in Omaha. I repost this photograph today, knowing in my heart that I am saying goodbye to you sweet Julie as you struggle with your last few breaths, the title more appropriate than ever. Goodbye my sweet friend… you have been a beautiful light in the world. And I KNOW you are ready for this new journey.
Goodbye my sweet friend…
You have been a beautiful light in the world. And I KNOW you are ready for this new journey.