When I Heart Faces announced their Beautiful Black & White photography challenge, one image from the tens of thousands of photographs I've taken, the one that popped into my head as the image I knew I wanted to submit, was anything other than what most people would call "beautiful."
It wasn't of a bride and groom. A newborn baby. A family. It was this one...
Back in August 2011, out of the blue, I suffered 4 seizures in a 24-hour period of time, one of which nearly ended my life, if it weren't for my then fiance, Jason, helping me to restart my breathing in the quiet of the night. A CT scan and a MRI revealed a large mass in the left side of my brain. The doctor in the ER thought it was a tumor. I was a 32-year-old woman who had never broken a bone, never had a cavity, and never really got sick before. This was new territory for me...scary territory.
My family drove down from Ohio, Jason's brother flew in from California, and I had a brain biopsy up in Savannah a week later.
I remember a few details about that day. How it felt to leave my family behind in the waiting room while I walked down the hall to prep for surgery, not knowing what the future would hold for me. How I made sure the surgical assistant who shaved away several patches of my hair knew I was getting married in 5 weeks...so to do a good job. How it felt to lose my ability to speak when I underwent my first ever breath of anesthesia.
I don't remember much of the week I recovered, as I was highly medicated. I couldn't remember what monthly bills I pay, I don't remember who visited me, I don't remember my dogs being around. I do know I could hardly walk, could hardly open my mouth, that my family took turns watching me 24/7 to make sure I didn't have another seizure, and that laying in bed is just not for me.
I also knew that I missed photography and needed a creative outlet. A fellow photographer suggested I take photos of from bed of things that I could see from where I lay. I could hardly hold up the camera, could only take 15 images, but it was just the thing I needed. Another photographer had suggested that, if I was brave enough, to take a self-portrait. At first, that scared me, possibly more than brain surgery. And because it scared me, I did it.
This image is not stereotypical beauty. This image is raw beauty. Although you cannot see my eyes (I wasn't strong enough to lift my head anymore that day), what you see of my face is all that you need to know the story. This image shows vulnerability...hope...strength... This may be my favorite
image of myself. It is definitely a reminder of how I can overcome all
obstacles in my path, even when at times I may feel alone or afraid. I am a
survivor and a fighter.
Flash forward a month later - a week before my wedding. The abnormality in my brain miraculously reduced down to 15% of its original size. It was not a tumor, but most likely scar tissue from a stroke-like event back in August, which had caused the seizures. And a few weeks ago, I was given the clean bill of health from my neurologist that heads my medical team at the Mayo Clinic.
In hindsight, the last 6 months were exactly what I needed. I re-evaluated every aspect of my life and reshaped my future. I don't take things for granted anymore. I still work hard, but I play hard, too. I live life to the fullest. Life...is beautiful.