Shoots for a Cure
by Eric Urbach
Amanda Norman has many memories from her childhood, but perhaps none has been more influential as her memory that everywhere her family went, a camera went with them. Amanda’s father was a professional photographer during her childhood and he never missed an opportunity to capture his kids’ lives, celebrating their accomplishments, birthdays, school plays, ballgames and holidays.
At a young age, Amanda became interested in photography and began learning as a young apprentice to her father. It was then that she learned how to use a camera to capture life’s moments and the people who make them.
Other interests have come and gone as Amanda has grown, but photography has remained something very special for her. “Photography is my escape,” Amanda explains.
A few years ago, Amanda began to look for a way to help others find an escape through photography, but on the other side of the lens. She had a specific idea in mind, which was the result of a memory from long ago.
When Amanda was only eight or nine years old, she remembers her female cousin, sitting on Amanda’s mother’s bed, weeping, telling a story about how she had recently walked into a restaurant and wondered. She wondered if anyone else could tell that her organs were being attacked by a very mean disease. She wondered if anyone could tell that she had cancer. It had only been a few weeks since her diagnosis, but Amanda’s cousin not only began to feel different on the inside, but on the outside. She had yet to face the struggles of chemotherapy, but those days would come. Hair would be found in clumps on her pillow and would fill her hairbrush as the inevitable process began. Amanda’s cousin no longer felt beautiful. She felt that cancer had changed her, inside and out.
With this memory, Amanda began her search. Her search led her to an organization called Think Pink Photography, which provided complimentary photo sessions for women battling breast cancer. Think Pink’s idea was to help women with breast cancer feel beautiful about themselves, in spite of the disease that made them very sick. It was what Amanda was looking for. She signed up to be a photographer and waited for leads.
Unfortunately, Think Pink began to decline. The organizers vanished and the photographers were no longer contacted. Rather than give up on her passion, Amanda did some research and discovered that Think Pink Photography was now called Shoots for a Cure, led by Kim Townsend of Maryland. Amanda contacted Kim and soon, the two began discussing plans on how to grow Shoots for a Cure into the organization they both envisioned. They decided to broaden their focus to not only people with breast cancer, but to people with any type of cancer. Amanda then became Communications Coordinator. Little did she know that something amazing was about to happen.
Late one night, just two days after Shoots for a Cure had gone live, Amanda’s cell phone buzzed, notifying of a new email. As Amanda read the email, she could hardly believe it. A random person had Googled, “OKC Photographer,” and Amanda’s name appeared. The woman who sent the email had a best friend in Oklahoma City who had been diagnosed with cancer and the friend thought it would be good for her friend, Shelly, to have a few pictures taken. Shelly’s friend and Amanda spoke the next morning and arrangements were made.
Shelly’s session was scheduled two days after a chemo treatment. Amanda and Shelly recognized the risk that Shelly may not feel well, but Shelly was able to make it. Amanda sensed that Shelly was a bit nervous, at first, but shortly into the six hour session, Shelly let her guard down. With no wig and her head bald, Shelly began to pose with her favorite things, like her pink boxing gloves and favorite shoes. Shelly soon joined the creative process and began offering suggestions for what might look just right. From different settings to using props, to no props at all, they shared a lot of laughter and both Shelly and Amanda were changed that day. A six hour session was long and exhausting, but Amanda explains, “To give her that day of, ‘I feel good and I’m beautiful,” was worth it.”
Amanda, with Kim and the other staff members of Shoots for a Cure, has worked hard to add volunteer photographers to the list of those who are willing to give their time to help a person with cancer feel beautiful. As Amanda explains, their goal for the people they shoot is to always, “…make them feel that no matter what, they are the same person. Not that they have cancer, but they are who they are.”
Amanda explains that Shoots for a Cure is not merely about taking pictures. Her greatest example comes from what happened soon after Shelly’s session was finished. Within a few days, Amanda received emails from Shelly’s parents and family. The emails explained that Shelly had come back from the session with more confidence than even before she was diagnosed with cancer. Shelly’s session had provided her an escape from her battle within and the confidence to keep fighting.
Today, Shoots for a Cure has approximately 250 volunteer photographers in the United States and approximately 500 world-wide. More information can be found on their website, www.shootsforacure.com. They are always looking for people with cancer who want do document their journey, as well as photographers who are willing to lead someone through the experience.
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