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A Dream. A Story of Love and Life and Beauty. – Jill Conley in Paris

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.

Lucky for me, Sue Bryce and Hailey Barhtholomew were there to document the experience. To tell Jill’s story. To shine a light on my dear friend.

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.

Jill Conley Paris Cancer Seattle Wedding Photographer Glamour PortraitsJill Conley Paris Cancer Seattle Wedding Photographer Glamour Portraits

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!

Roweena TimsonHailey Barthowlomew, Jill ConleySue Bryce, Jamie StephensonSarah Windsor Smith, me, and Sally Sargood.

Our first night out

Jill Conley Paris Cancer Seattle Wedding Photographer Glamour Portraits

Steven Khalil provided Sue with this stunning gown for the photo shoots

Jill Conley Paris Cancer Seattle Wedding Photographer Glamour Portraits

Sarah getting Jill ready for the first shoot

Jill Conley Paris Cancer Seattle Wedding Photography Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

Seattle Wedding Photographer Glamour Portraits

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

Seattle Wedding Photographer Glamour Portraits

Seattle Wedding Photographer Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

Hailey & Rowe

Seattle Wedding Photographer Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

The hotel where we stayed was so perfect

Seattle Wedding Photographer Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

This is while we were scouting for shoot locations on the streets of Paris

Seattle Wedding Photographer Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

Me and Sue

Seattle Wedding Photographer Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

Sally, Jamie, and Sue on the metro

Seattle Wedding Photography Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

Adorable Hailey

Seattle Wedding Photography Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

Seattle Wedding Photography Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

Look at that smile! We were in the hotel lobby here.

Seattle Wedding Photography Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

It was an emotional day at the Love Lock Bridge

Seattle Wedding Photography Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

For mine and Jill’s last night in Paris, Sue took us on a dinner cruise on the Seine.

Seattle Wedding Photography Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

Seattle Wedding Photography Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

After dinner, we danced and played at the Eiffel Tower

Seattle Wedding Photography Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

Seattle Wedding Photography Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

Hailey will do anything to get the shot;)Seattle Wedding Photography Glamour Portraits Jill in Paris

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. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Seattle Wedding Photographer Glamour Jill in Paris

photos above by Sue Bryce


Nikki Closser, Seattle Wedding & Glamour Photographer
January 29, 2013 - 9:10 pm

Stacy Gendreau - Speechless….again! The power of friendship and love!

January 29, 2013 - 9:16 pm

Julyssa Schenk - friendships are those precious jems in life. it would be hard to put the Paris experience down to words but you did an excellent job. i love the love you have for Jill. Both of you are amazing… actually the whole dream team is amazing. much love to you and jill.

January 29, 2013 - 9:17 pm

Stephanie Dyane - Oh – My – Goodness!!! Nikki… this is incredible. I’m so happy that you took that chance and wrote that email to Sue. It’s amazing what happens when we just JUMP and take a risk. Because of your email, millions of lives have been (and will be) touched by Jill’s story. My aunt is currently going though breast cancer…. Jill’s story is a representation of ALL women. So empowering. I can only imagine you trying to find the words to post this blog. I can hardly find the words to post a comment. Truly amazing. <3

January 29, 2013 - 9:18 pm

Amanda Jill Hill - Nikki, you are an amazing friend! I seriously can’t read this without crying.
Thank you for sharing this story, and for taking a chance by contacting Sue. None of this would have happened without you :) I am sharing the donation link on my FB page, as well as the link to Sue and Hailey’s doco. I can’t wait to see what will happen next.


January 29, 2013 - 9:24 pm

Paula - I first saw pictures of Jill when you guys were in Paris, I didn’t understand then what what going on. But now after watching the Light that Shines, I have no words… You are a wonderful friend for taking that first step and emailing Sue… Much love to you and Jill… You guys will be in my prayers…

January 29, 2013 - 9:27 pm

janice trubak - Nikki you always inspire me your caring spirit radiates from you. I love the story of you and Jill and I tell it often to people I loved all the pictures you took in Paris. I follow Jill and her story and I am glad that you have her as a friend and that she has you. I will continue to keep her in my thoughts and prayers. I am blessed to be in your life.. Love Aunt Jan

January 29, 2013 - 9:34 pm

kelly weech - Your blog post is perfect. I watched the video of Jill last night and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. Nikki you are the bestest friend any girl could have and I am so happy you with the help of others made her dream come true. When you touch strangers hearts the way you all have words may not be easy to put down but the images you have taken above say it all. Love a random girl in the UK touched by this truly beautiful story :)

January 29, 2013 - 9:39 pm

Caroline - So powerful story!

January 29, 2013 - 9:56 pm

Berit - People like you, Sue and the team make the world a beautiful place. I wish more people would take time to notice all the good things because there is so many good things!

January 29, 2013 - 10:06 pm

Laura Jens Sisino - Nikki….your friendship with Jill is so beautiful, beyond words. Following your heart and contacting Sue Bryce in hindsight was the best gift to your friend that you could have ever given. Who would have thought that this love, your friendship and Jill’s amazing story would have exploded the way it is has? How awesome!
Because of you Jill’s dreams are coming true. No one could ever ask for a better friend than that.

I love love calling the girls the Dream Team, so appropriate. Thank you to all the girls, especially Sue and Hailey for creating such a beautiful story that has spoken volumes (in super sized type volume) to all that have seen the video.

Jill and her family will continue to be in my prayers. Knowing she is surrounded by such love and support (including the million of new friends she has made :)) may her light continue to shine bright.
PS: I was very happy to make a donation, and would think many others will if it is spoken about and shared. Thank you for putting it in your blog. Medical bills for such an ailment can be more than over whelming. If more can chip in a little (or a lot) maybe that mountain will shrink down to an itty bitty ant hill to help take away the stress that they may feel towards the bills.

January 29, 2013 - 10:18 pm

Gratitude & Sue Bryce | Laura Jens Photography - […] best friends; Nikki Closser (instrumental in making this dream come true), wrote a beautiful heart warming story on the experience and the trip to Paris where Sue Bryce took some of the stunning photos shown […]

January 29, 2013 - 10:24 pm

Andrea Scott - You are such an amazing friend and I love hearing your side of the story as well! Such a wonderful and powerful story! Thank you for sharing it with us!

January 29, 2013 - 10:33 pm

Anna - I absolutely love it! I love, love, love, love, love, LOVE! OMG! You did an incredible thing to help your friend! <3

January 29, 2013 - 10:38 pm

Brenda Eley - Wow!No words Nikki. This all started because you were a dear friend and wanted to help get the word out. I have been anxiously waiting to see this documentary since Sue announced it that day on CL. It turned out so beautifully in every way. I have posted it on my page and business page, because everyone needs to see it. Jill is in my prayers, what a heart she has, she’s so bold, and I am always so giddy whenever I see Sue’s posts about the # of views, lol! The awesome part is it’s not just stopping with Sue, Oprah?Ellen?etc, that’s so cool!

January 29, 2013 - 10:40 pm

Lucy - Nikki, this is a beautiful story… I choked a few times reading your blog, and I’ve watched the video many times with tears in my eyes. You are all beautiful women with great hearts. Thank you!

January 29, 2013 - 11:05 pm

Marina Ryan - Perfectly said! So beautiful in every way and brings on the tears for sure

January 29, 2013 - 11:50 pm

Rosemary Duchon - Nikki, you are an extraordinary and remarkable friend and human being. The profound impact that you have made on my daughter’s life is beyond words. Your passion for photography is displayed in every beautiful photo. My heart is full of hope, joy, pride and gratitude!

January 30, 2013 - 1:45 am

Whitney Lane - I love your pics of Jill Nikki!!! They are beautiful and my fave work of yours yet. You have a huge future ahead of you in this genre. I could feel how close Jill is to you in the photos you took of her :) I love all of your behind the scenes shots and obv love the whole story and sue …and you know how i feel about you and al this :) Keep loving big Nikki!

January 30, 2013 - 1:54 am

Joy Bruce - You don’t need the “right” words. We see it, we feel it, that’s the power of photography, it tells your story without words. You are a photographer for a reason, and maybe it was JUST for Jill, we’ll never know, but you were given a gift and you put it to use!
I’m honored to have met you and know you. This is one of those goosebump happenings in life that just propel all of us to go out and use our talents we were given for others!
Thank you Nikki!

January 30, 2013 - 1:55 am

ashley fisher - you’re amazing, sweet friend! Thank you for having the courage to start this process with Sue + for showing the world Jill’s story. I think it’s going to change many, many lives! :)

January 30, 2013 - 2:29 am

jenna leigh - i am lucky to have a friend like you and so is jill. i am speechless over all of this and feel like i am a part of her story thanks to all of your hard work. she is amazing and such a light, keep on shining jill!

January 30, 2013 - 2:54 am

Nicole Coombs - Nikki the only ting I can say is this whole thing turned out PERFECT!!

January 30, 2013 - 3:00 am

Amber - Oh dear! Amazing. Truly amazing how God can use you to make this happen. Can’t wait to see you again in March!

January 30, 2013 - 3:10 am

Cindy Kirk - Beautiful story Nikki. Many prayers for Jill, her family(including you) and her friends. You’re photographs of her are gorgeous. What you have done for Jill(and I suspect for the whole crew of you that went to Paris) can never be fully comprehended. When story telling is raw, selfless and is close to the heart, indescribable emotions come from that. I think that could be why your audience you’ve shared this experience with is so moved by Jill’s story. Because it could be me, my mom, grandma, sister or my best friend who needs that support, LOVE and understanding.

Jill has moved me, through you, through Sue, Hailey and the others. I’m 47, and I’m going to have my first mammogram in my life soon. So THANK YOU, for shouting it from Paris!

Many Prayers, Light and Love!

January 30, 2013 - 3:27 am

Kelly Murray - Nikki what an amazing thing you did for your friend and women every where. I am sure that you and Jill will make a difference in not one but thousands of lives!

January 30, 2013 - 5:48 am

Allie Miller - And this is how amazing differences are made…
This is how stories endure, stories like Jill’s…
This is how people unite {common causes}
This is how you open your heart, soul and all that devotion that drives us to capture and tell a story.
This is how you become a better person!
The whole {How it began} is exactly how you have stolen my heart and tears… and my undivided attention!
So glad, you sent that email.. so happy Sue called you back! Thankful for CL and for everyone who believes in the power of CAN!
88k plus view.. that is insanely divine…
Keep on truckin’ – keep living!
Love & Grace!

January 30, 2013 - 6:03 am

Orchid Kruse - You are an incredibly loving, self-less and true [rare!] friend! God obviously placed you in Jill’s life, because you are exactly the kind of friend that she would need to help her at this most difficult time. Blessings to you…

January 30, 2013 - 6:12 am

Liz Mackney - You found the right words Nikki. Beautifully told.

January 30, 2013 - 8:47 am

Mirjana Baćac - Hello, beautiful photos and work, and I have a aunt, who once had cancer … they removed her one breast …. your work, and the result is really amazing and gives hope …. Greetings from the Croatian … Pula

January 30, 2013 - 11:18 am

Ilze - Niki
Thank you so much for bringing Jills story to cL, and to the world, and so wonderful to see behind the scenes

January 30, 2013 - 3:42 pm

kendra whelan - Beautiful story for a beautiful friendship!!! Thank you Nikki and Sue Bryce at cL for making Jills dreams come true, the documentary is so powerful and inspiring!! Your pics are incredible Nikki….so moving!! Well done and very well said :)

January 30, 2013 - 7:08 pm

nikkiclosser - Thank you, Stacy <3

January 30, 2013 - 7:21 pm

nikkiclosser - Thanks, Julyssa :) Yes, friendships are so precious!

January 30, 2013 - 7:23 pm

nikkiclosser - We have gotten SO many amazing letters from people sharing their story and sharing that they have such a better perspective about what their loved one went through/is going through. It’s so incredible <3

January 30, 2013 - 7:24 pm

nikkiclosser - Amanda! Thank you SO very much! <3

January 30, 2013 - 7:24 pm

nikkiclosser - Thank you, Paula. That really mean a lot!

January 30, 2013 - 7:25 pm

nikkiclosser - Love you, Aunt Jan. I am lucky to have YOU in my life! <3

January 30, 2013 - 7:25 pm

nikkiclosser - Kelly, this is the sweetest message. Thank you <3 I am a lucky girl to have Jill in my life!

January 30, 2013 - 7:26 pm

nikkiclosser - Yes, so many good things! Thanks for taking the time to read Jill’s story.

January 30, 2013 - 7:27 pm

nikkiclosser - Laura, thank you so much!! The outpouring of support and the stories we have been told about how this has positively effected others has been incredible! XOXO

January 30, 2013 - 7:28 pm

nikkiclosser - Thank you, Andrea <3 I hope to see you soon!

January 30, 2013 - 7:28 pm

nikkiclosser - Love, love, love this comment! Thanks, Anna <3

January 30, 2013 - 7:29 pm

nikkiclosser - Thank you so much for sharing, Brenda! I also get so giddy about the posts :)

January 30, 2013 - 7:29 pm

nikkiclosser - Thank you, Lucy <3

January 31, 2013 - 1:27 am

James Oliphant - I watched this with my wife and wept the whole way through. Thank you for sharing this story. I am a huge fan of Sue Bryce, and she proves once again that her talent is only exceeded by her generosity and compassion. Thank you again.

January 31, 2013 - 4:33 am

Melisa Draper - Nikki, Your photos are gorgeous!!! You are a wonderful friend to Jill. What an amazing experience the two of you had together all of you really! Jill’s story is being told :)

January 31, 2013 - 5:08 am

Britaney Holman - SPEECHLESS! What an incredible woman she is. My best friend is going on her 3rd year in remission from breast cancer. When you were speaking about Jillian, I knew all those emotions you felt. The strength that these woman have AMAZES me each day, to keep positive attitudes through such struggle. Nikki you are truly an incredible photographer and even more incredible friend. Sending Many Blessings to You & Jillian!!!! Thank you so much for Sharing your story with us!!!

February 2, 2013 - 2:34 am

Kristina - I cried like a baby at this! What a beautiful story, and thank you for showing some behind the scenes!

February 4, 2013 - 4:47 pm

Amanda - This is so moving and incredible! Thank you for sharing! I’m so glad to see a breast cancer patient sharing not just the truth about how it can look but also about the beauty that remains.

February 4, 2013 - 6:09 pm

Deborah - What a powerful story and such beautiful imagery. Thank you for sharing.

February 7, 2013 - 2:17 pm

Nicky Garner - What a beautiful story. I pray for strength for Jill and her friends and family! Thank you for sharing!

February 7, 2013 - 2:52 pm

Heather - This story is EVERYWHERE now and I’m so excited about it! I first heard about it on this blog and I just saw on my FB page that it’s a story on the TODAY show. So glad this story is being shared so widely.

February 7, 2013 - 6:09 pm

Susan Temple - Thank you so much for this beautiful film. I know that it will bless many, many people. I pray for God’s strength to continue to be with all of you as you fight against this disease.
My own mother is a breast cancer survivor. She is now 84 years old & six years cancer free. She, of course, was raised in a different world. I never remember seeing her without a bra on, even when she first woke up. After her single mastectomy, she chose to go without the prosthesis. It was too hot & heavy. It was not her & not necessary.
Just like we have to embrace the wrinkles and gray hair as we grow older & experience things in life, our batle scars are part of us.
Jill, it is evident that you have a lot of grace. May God continue to help & comfort you. Thank you for sharing your precious love story. I can see that you love one another very much. That is a gift that not everyone finds. Cherish it always. I am glad that you had you Cinderella time in Paris. You looked gorgeous & it looked like it was so much fun!

February 8, 2013 - 4:21 pm

Liz Mackney - You are an extraordinary friend Nikki. Everyone should be so lucky to have someone like you in their life. A beautiful story… a beautiful friendship… a beautiful journey of hope, love and light. And it all began with… you writing to Sue. You rock!

February 8, 2013 - 7:38 pm

Lauren Reed - I am SO THANKFUL for creativelive for helping photographers to connect. Following you and Sue… you connecting with Sue… Sue and Hailey connecting back to you and Jills story. (i sit here and write this as I watch creativelive’s feed of Marcus bell).

Ontop of developing my photography skills through creativelive… they make it possible for photographers to connect and create AMAZING stories like this.

I am so thankful to have followed you both and read this touching, bittersweet story. You truthfully are the exact defintion of a lifelong bestfriend. I cant even imagine having a more loyal, dedicated, loving bestfriend.

God bless Jill. Her friends & family. Sue & Hailey.
I am truthfully at a loss for words. and I am just rambling.
God, please please please bless Jill.

February 8, 2013 - 11:57 pm

Rebecca - Your images of Jill are so beautifull and she is so lucky to have a friend as wonderful as you.
It would be wonderful if every woman had your friendship to share life and its stories.
Thank you. Thank you for sharing Jill’s story with us – the world. She definitely is “The light that shines for all of us”.

February 14, 2013 - 6:09 am

Julie - Nikki, I have been watching Restart with Jasmine and have been drawn to you and your amazing personality. I looked at your website and loved your work. Then saw this story on your blog. Several days ago I saw the story on the Today show but didn’t realize you were the initial photographer. I am so happy for you that all of these amazing things are happening for you. Your talent and hard work are definitely paying off. And Jill is truly blessed to have you as a friend. Many blessings and prayers to both of you!

February 14, 2013 - 10:25 pm

nikkiclosser - Thank you so much, Julie! <3

April 19, 2013 - 10:25 pm

Alaina Bos - I’ve thought about Jill a lot since seeing the video for the first time and hope she’s doing okay. I’m going to share her story on my blog. You two have such a special bond (reminds me of me and my BFF). Your photos of her are so expressive and transcendent. I love them. She is beautiful. Hugs!

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