Everything that I shoot is heavy and I get that. I don’t do family sessions in flower fields with coordinated outfits, I document pediatric illness. All of my subjects are deep in the trenches of their battle…there is no glamour to any of it but there is reality. And let me tell you…while much of that reality is more harsh than many experience in a lifetime…the beauty…the beauty that comes from simple moments that so many of us miss simply because life moves quickly on the outside…but on the inside…inside those hospital walls those moments are not missed. Mundane is cherished. Love is magnified. Gratitude is palpable. Each and every moment is lived either as though it is a gift or the last.
One of those such moments was a “birthday” celebration I took part in earlier this year. A first birthday celebration to be exact…you know one of those big ones that families throw huge parties for, decorate with themes and send out customized invitations. This one was a little different.
Zyan turned one.
Zyan spent the majority of his first year of life living in isolation at UCSF.
Zyan is not sick.
Zyan is a perfectly healthy, bouncy and more adorable than words little boy.
But here’s the thing about pediatric illness…it happens to the entire family. Zyans older brother Kaysan was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 5 when Zyan was merely a baby. The life saving treatments he would undergo over the next year left his parents with a choice. Either Zyan was to remain IN the room 24/7 under the very same isolation precautions as his brother OR he would be out of the room and unable to visit. This leaves two young parents with a choice…to split the family or to not. They chose to fight as a family. They chose to hunker down together…day in/day out…the four of them in a single room with a newborn and a 5 year fighting for his life.
The fight of pediatric illness is not just a fight for the child whom bears the illness…it is a fight for the parents and the siblings. This family fought and I am beyond blessed to have documented moments for them from dire times in the PICU to a birthday celebration for Mr. Zyan.
Brittany (the boys mother) deeply wanted a cake smash shoot for her little mans birthday…she’s a Starbucks fanatic and had dreamed of that themed birthday celebration as many mothers do. While a big party was not an option we came together to make a version of that. Hoards of nurses were present to sing happy birthday and the boys both opened gifts and basked in the glory of toys and attention.
She ordered a more lifelike version of a frappachino cake then I would have ever dreamed possible, we taped white hospital sheets from the walls with medical tape and strung handmade banners across in coordinating colors.
In true “cake smash shoot” fashion the child was not nearly as willing a participant as the adults but let me tell you…there are few things cuter than a baby crying over the opportunity to destroy a fancy cake.
Like I said…what I shoot is heavy…but also as the parents of sick children it’s our version of normal…it’s our children's version of childhood…its complicated and heartbreaking and sad but this day…this day was magic.