I am rarely at a loss for words. But, every time I sat down to write about the experience I had in Paris with Jill Conley and seven other amazing women, I just couldn’t. I couldn’t find the words. I couldn’t sum it up into one blog entry.
I’ll start from the beginning of this experience. Jill came to visit me in Seattle in August (she lives in Kentucky). While she was here, we decided to do a photo shoot of her because, ever since being diagnosed with breast cancer over 3 years ago, she has wanted to share her story with others. She was hopeful that sharing her story would help other women to not feel ashamed of their scars. She was also hopeful that sharing her story would help educate men about what women go through when they experience losing their breasts. She wanted to show how breast cancer truly effects people and also what breast cancer really looks like. She wanted to show that life can still be lived and still be beautiful despite cancer.
During the photo shoot, we laughed and cried and laughed some more. We talked about Jill’s dreams and she was hopeful that through the photos I took of her, her story could be told to the world. Um, no pressure at all.
During the time that Jill was in Seattle, Sue Bryce was on creativeLIVE. I had Sue’s workshop playing on my laptop every chance that I could. Sue is the person who taught me how to pose women and what I learned from her helped me so much while I was posing Jill during our shoot.
Two days later, it was time to take Jill to the airport. I did not want her to leave! I was so grateful for this time with my beautiful friend. I came home to a heartfelt letter that she left for me and I will cherish it forever. I kept thinking to myself that I wanted so badly to make Jill’s dreams come true! I just wasn’t sure where to even begin. Were my photos even good enough? I didn’t want my photos to be what got in the way of Jill’s dreams.
I couldn’t stop thinking about how to make this happen for her. That night, I decided I would write to Sue Bryce. I knew she was crazy busy because her last day of creativeLIVE was the following day, but I took a chance anyway. I told her Jill’s story and asked her to critique my photos. And, if she didn’t think they were good enough, I would fundraise or do whatever else I could to get her to shoot Jill. She wrote me back that night and told me to call her. The next day, she had Jill Skyping on creativeLIVE and three weeks later we were in Paris! Unreal. Sue had won a trip to Paris because she was the Australian Portrait Photographer of the year and instead of taking some down time to relax and enjoy Paris, she brought us along. And worked. Hard. And, on top of it all, Hailey Barthowlomew also came along to Paris to create a documentary about Jill. I mean, really?! I still can’t believe it sometimes. What a dream come true!
I chose some of my favorite photos from our time in Paris to show you. Some are behind the scenes and some are just us girls having fun. Jill named our group The Dream Team and they certainly were just that!
Our first night out
Steven Khalil provided Sue with this stunning gown for the photo shoots
Sarah getting Jill ready for the first shoot
It was pouring rain the morning of the shoot at the Eiffel Tower, but it was still so beautiful and gave such a dramatic effect
Hailey & Rowe
The hotel where we stayed was so perfect
This is while we were scouting for shoot locations on the streets of Paris
Me and Sue
Sally, Jamie, and Sue on the metro
Look at that smile! We were in the hotel lobby here.
It was an emotional day at the Love Lock Bridge
For mine and Jill’s last night in Paris, Sue took us on a dinner cruise on the Seine.
After dinner, we danced and played at the Eiffel Tower
Hailey will do anything to get the shot
This is where I start to lose my words again. I feel like no matter what I write or say or do, I will never be able to fully express the gratitude I feel towards Sue and Hailey. They put months of incredibly hard work into this and it is obvious that they put their heart and soul into it, as well.
I couldn’t speak while watching the documentary for the first time. And I continued to sit in silence for several minutes afterwards. That is how powerful it is. The film is called ‘The Light That Shines’ and it is absolutely moving and beautiful and inspiring and truthful. They truly shine a light on Jill and on what it is like to be a young woman with cancer. They tell a story of LIFE, LOVE, and BEAUTY. They tell a story of what cancer can’t take from Jill.
Without further ado, here is ‘The Light That Shines’
Please help us share Jill’s story with the world. I’ll end with some of the beautiful images that Sue took of Jill the first day that Jill put on Steven’s dress. I cried watching her…tears of joy to see her huge smile and tears of sorrow for what she is going through. I think we all cried. She was glowing in that dress.
Oh, and one last thing. We haven’t talked much about how Jill’s medical bills and financial situation have added such a huge stress to her life. She owes almost $300,000 from her multiple surgeries, chemo, medication, radiation, and everything else. She now has incurable bone cancer and is unable to work due to her treatments. Our friend, Emily Toucher, created a website for Jill a while ago and the donation link is still active. If you would like to donate to Jill, please do so here. http://jillfightscancer.wordpress.com/help-jill/ Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Nikki Closser, Seattle Wedding & Glamour Photographer