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Heart of A Lion │ Connecticut Photographer

A couple of months ago I received an email from Cassie, who lives in another part of the country.  Cassie found me through Think Pink Photography, an organization that helps locate photographers for women affected by cancer.  Cassie was looking for a CT Photographer that would be willing to do a photo session for a friend she had met on her cancer survivors support group.   This session would be one of great importance, because her friend, Ally, is terminally ill.

I read through Cassie’s email and was overwhelmed by Ally’s story.  She is a mother to four children, just like me;  a wife,  a daughter and friend to many.   But unlike me, Ally developed aggressive breast cancer and has been in a fight for her life for the past four years, first from cancer and then from the affects of the drug that was supposed to help save her life.

I was anxious to meet with Ally and get to know her before her session.  At first, she was a little apprehensive about having photos taken, as she is usually on the other side of the camera, but she readily agreed.

Ally and I had a lengthy conversation about what she would like to gain from our session together.  She was very open about her fight with this ugly disease and her acceptance of what was to come.  She told me her story in great depth and I was amazed at her courage and grace and I doubted to myself that I would ever be so strong under such circumstances.  But rather than try to tell you the few things I learned about Ally in a few short hours, I asked Cassie tell you what Ally means to her.

I have a friend named Ally who is a fellow survivor. She was diagnosed just a few months ahead of me, and we had similar statistics. We both were in the small percentage of women who sustained permanent heart damage from one of the main chemotherapy drugs used to fight breast cancer, adriamycin. Her heart damage was severe, and her doctors missed the signs of decline, until she ended up in the ICU not long after treatment. While in the ICU her heart function became so weak that she had a stroke. They saved her life, and she has fought very, very hard to work her way back to the land of the living.

Last spring, my heart function began to decline, and I didn’t know what was happening to me. Though we have only met on our internet support website, Ally emailed me privately and told me that I needed a new cardiologist ASAP, because the symptoms I was describing were exactly the same as the ones her own doctors failed to take seriously. I did, and my new cardiologist changed my meds, and my heart function recovered. My heart function is now almost normal. I believe that Ally saved my life. My former cardiologist saw me as a number, not an individual, so he wasn’t paying attention to how I felt, only that my heart function hadn’t declined to a dangerous level, yet. But Ally knew better.

I’ve come to know and truly love Ally in this last year, and although my heart is much healthier now because of her, it’s also breaking because of her. She is a loving mom, a strong woman with a fierce sense of humor, and a wellspring of determination. She has, through her own will, extended her life and the quality of her life, for the sake of her family and her determination to survive. She’s made choices that her doctors have disagreed with, but ones which I am positive have increased her quality of life. While we’re getting the snot beaten out of us, nobody feels like a fighter, so if you asked Ally, I don’t think she’d describe herself that way, but she is. She is a world-class, heavy-weight champion. Her stubborn Irish determination has brought her a long, long way.

Like a carnival game, this life is not designed to let any one of us win in the end. Ally is one of those rare people who walk around the carnival with a big stuffed lion, because she’s beaten the odds, for a long time. It wasn’t easy, and it cost a lot, but she got the damned lion. But eventually, you have to leave the carnival. We all have to go home. In my belief system, home is ultimately a better place. At least she made them fork over the big lion.

I love you Ally. I don’t care what they say, you have the heart of a lion.

Cassie Esselink
3 year survivor!

As I was writing this post yesterday, Cassie wrote to me to tell me Ally has taken a turn for the worse.  Would you please pray for Ally and her family?  God made Ally’s heart, He can certainly heal it.

Thank you to Debbie at The Pink Daisy Project and Susan Lipiner at Frame Dimensions In West Hartford, CT and to everyone that worked so hard to make this session happen for Ally.

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