Facing Cancer with Creativity

Ben Nunery celebrated his love for his daughter, Olivia (left), and the memory of wife Ali (right) through this beautiful and touching photo essay by Melanie and Adam Pace. Image by loft3pd.com.

There’s no way around it: Cancer is scary.

Sometimes it can be beaten. Other times, it’s a nearly lifelong challenge. All too often, it is a taker of life. But, it is always frightening. Cancer has the ability to be debilitating, emotionally and physically painful, financially devastating, and certainly humbling. However, it never has to be dehumanizing.

This is the lesson that three families facing cancer have taught others through beautiful, heartwarming, and heartbreaking photo essays, which includes a look at the brave and tragic journey of a terminal cancer patient. It’s a reminder that cancer doesn’t just effect the patient, but also those left behind by the one who has succumbed to the disease. It also leaves us with the encouraging belief that the soul and spirit can always remain strong, as long as there are those around to fill one’s life with laughter and love.

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Angelo Meredino and his wife Jen preparing for a difficult journey. Image courtesy of Angelo Meredino Photography.

The Battle We Didn’t Choose. Photographer Angelo Meredino’s wife Jennifer was diagnosed with breast cancer just five months after they were married. Despite the hard and fatal journey ahead, Angelo and Jennifer’s love for each other never subsided.

Book cover courtesy of Angelo Meredino Photography.

Meredino needed a way to share this devastation and struggle, and to let others know the challenges faced by cancer patients and their loved ones. He began photographing their day-to-day life, a project that continued until Jen passed away in 2011, days after her 40th birthday. When a friend suggested Meredino share these photos on the internet, the response was overwhelming from people worldwide.

He has since established a non-profit organization in Jen’s honor, The Love You Share, which provides financial assistance to women in need facing breast cancer. Fifty percent of the sales of his book, The Battle We Didn’t Choose: My Wife’s Fight with Breast Cancer, also go to the cause. “By sharing our story, our love story, something beautiful has begun to grow out of something so horrible and unfair,” Meredino says on his blog, “If we don’t share our experiences, how can we learn, grow, and survive?”

Ben and Olivia Nunery on saying goodbye to their old home. Image by loft3pd.com.

An Unfurnished House. As a celebration of a new life together, Cincinnati couple Ben and Ali Nunery took wedding day photos of themselves in their newly purchased, unfurnished home in 2009 . The couple later welcomed a daughter, Olivia, but Ali lost her life to lung cancer in 2011.

Ben and Ali Nunery on their wedding day. Image by loft3pd.com.

When Ben and three-year-old Olivia moved out of the home, his sister-in-law and her husband, professional photographers Melanie and Adam Pace, took photos of them in the similar poses to Ben and Ali’s wedding photos, once more in an unfurnished home, as a way to remember the home and their love for Ali.

As touching as these photos are, Ben told a reporter with Yahoo Shine where many of these photos can be viewed, he doesn’t want people to see them in terms of sadness and grief, but rather “see the love I have for Ali and Olivia. The love is always there and that’s what goes on.”

The Tutu Project. Photographer Bob Carey began taking pictures of himself shirtless and wearing a pink tutu in 2003. The idea was to make his wife, Linda, who was facing breast cancer, laugh. What started as merely a sweet gesture has blossomed into a way for the Careys to help others with cancer via The Tutu Project, and Carey and his ever-present tutu have been photographed in front of everything from The Grand Canyon to a Bloomingdale’s escalator.

Ten years later, this photo series has inspired both a non-profit organization and self-published book, Ballerina. Postcards, art prints, calendars, and books of Bob Carey’s humorous and touching photos are available for purchase, with proceeds benefiting the non-profit Carey Foundation for women with breast cancer. The Tutu Project also invites others to join in by submitting their own thoughts or “tutu” pictures. Although the cancer battle continues, the Careys have stated that cancer has taught them not only that “life is good,” but also that sometimes the best way to face another day is “to laugh at ourselves, and share a laugh with others.”

tutu calendar
The Tutu Project calendar, featuring photography by Bob Carey. Photo via Amazon.

This post is dedicated to the memory of R.J. Seeburg and in honor of Stella Frattarelli, a pair of angels who have shown me even the smallest person can fight cancer with a smile as big as their heart. Stella’s family has set up her own cancer fund, Prayers for Stella.

Fund Childhood Cancer Research With Heroes For a Cure

Image: Northwestern Mutual
Image: Northwestern Mutual

September is National Childhood Cancer Month and Northwestern Mutual has set a goal to raise $50,000 to fund 1,000 hours of research to cure the disease. They’re raising funds through Heroes For a Cure with this beautiful video starring two kids who are bravely fighting their cancers.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in children under 15 in the United States and one way we can reduce that number is to find a cure. Eight-year-old Brooke Mulford and 10-year-old Tony Salerno are both fighting cancer and are featured in the Northwestern Mutual video.

Image: Northwestern Mutual
Image: Northwestern Mutual

They talk about how the doctors treating them and the scientists searching for a cure are real life superheroes. They don’t need a cape or costume or secret identity, they just need funding to continue their research and save lives.

Through the end of September, Northwestern Mutual will donate $2 to Alex’s Lemonade Stand every time the video is shared, up to $50,000. This is the equivalent of 1,000 hours of research that could be the difference between life and death for kids like Brooke and Tony.

You can help by heading to the Heroes For a Cure Facebook page and simply sharing this video. Childhood cancer is a big problem, but the combined small actions of us all could make it a thing of the past.

Go Team Liberty!

St. Baldrick's Logo  Image: St. Baldrick's

St. Baldrick’s Logo Image: St. Baldrick’s

St. Baldrick’s has a special place in my heart. Thankfully, it’s not because I’ve had to benefit from their services, but a good friend of mine has. Last year, I did a post about Ian Keisacker and his fight for life. The publicity from the post pushed Ian’s goal from a humble $500 to over $1,000! I can’t tell you what that meant to me to see so many people reach out and help this young boy with something that means so much to him.

Liberty is a real girly girl  Image: TravelSize
Liberty is a real girly girl Image: TravelSize

This year, I’m thrilled to say that Ian is still cancer free and once again participating in the St. Baldrick’s fundraiser for cancer research.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for cancer, so there is always someone out there suffering. This year, I’d like to bring your attention to a little two and half year old girl named Liberty. Liberty is a Michigan native and loves to sing and dance.

One thing keeps her from fully experiencing life…she has stage four neuroblastoma.

Known as “TravelSize” by her 501st Legion Garrison, TX-4839 is a real trooper and rallying for Team Liberty.  Their goal is to raise $500 for cancer research in Liberty’s name.

In honor of Liberty and St. Baldrick’s annual shaving fundraising, TravelSize will shave her head if Liberty meets her goal!

Every year, St. Baldrick’s hosts a head shaving fundraiser. Everyone is invited to participate and people of all ages get their heads shaved for the cause. Events are held in pubs, hair salons, homes, schools, and pretty much anywhere that will welcome the cause. The purpose is to show that while we have a choice in losing our hair, those with cancer do not. It’s a neat way to show your support for those suffering with cancer.

I think we can help make that happen. How about you? To donate, head over to her fundraising page. Every dollar helps and nothing is to small a donation. To learn more about St. Baldrick’s and their mission to help cure childhood cancer, check out their website.

May the force be with Team Liberty!

Please Vote for Noah's Light Foundation

Jedi Noah and the Florida Garrison / Image: Florida Garrison
Jedi Noah and the Florida Garrison / Image: Florida Garrison

Jedi Noah Larkin was a very special boy to my 501st Legion garrison. We had the honor of helping him celebrate his birthday last year and this year, we helped honor him at this memorial service in Kissimmee, Florida.

Noah was a happy little boy who was perplexed that people would not do something to the fullest. He wanted to be the next Walt Disney or George Lucas because they “just did!” His battle with brain cancer lasted from October 29th, 2009 and ended when Noah moved on to his eternal home at 4pm on May 29th, 2012.

Noah’s life touched many of us in the Florida Garrison and his memory continues to live on through the foundation his parents set up in his name to help raise money and awareness for children’s brain and spinal tumors.

Like many charities, Noah’s Light Foundation needs a boost. Chase is currently giving away $5 million in grants to charity through voting on their Facebook page. It just so happens that voting ends on what would have been Noah’s ninth birthday. Personally, I can’t think of a better birthday present for such an inspiring and loved little boy.

Help me honor this little boy and his short (but very much loved) life by voting for Noah’s Light Foundation.

May the Force be with Noah and all those who were blessed to know him.

501st Galactic Legion – The Ian Keisacker Story

Ian Keisacker has been a fan of Star Wars since he was a small youngling.

On night in 2009 there was a disturbance in the force. Ian woke up around 4:30am screaming of a headache and within a half hour he became unresponsive.

His parents rushed him to the ER and within 30 minutes he was in surgery. Seven hours later, the neurosurgeon, Dr. Abbassi, removed a 5cm tumor from the back of Ian’s head. He told Ian’s parents that if they had waited any longer, he would not have survived. The next day, to get his spirits up, his parents told him the doctors had discovered that he had a higher midi-chlorian level than Yoda or Anakin.

The day after surgery, the hospital ran tests and discovered that Ian had an abnormal tumor. To keep his spirits up, while he was in the hospital, his classmates from the Holy Spirit Catholic School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, made him over 200 Star Wars cards to hang in his room.  Within seven days Ian was no longer in intensive care and on February 14th, he was well enough to go home.

Darth Ian while on his Make-A-Wish trip, 2009
Darth Ian while on his Make-A-Wish trip, 2009

The fight was far from over. Ian still had to visit the Mayo clinic for radiation treatments. Before he could get his treatments, Ian had to have a special port inserted in him. To help make the port placement easier, his parents showed him pictures of C-3PO with his “restraining bolt”. They told Ian that he was going to get something like it to help him and make things easier. For the remainder of his therapy, Ian always referred to it as his C-3PO Port.

While going through his radiation, he loved watching movies, but the Star Wars films were always a hit. While staying at the Ronald McDonald house, their room was decked out in posters, blankets, toys and other Jedi necessities. One of the anesthesiologists even had a lightsaber app that he let Ian customize his own lightsaber on.

Vader and Ian battle it out, 2009
Vader and Ian battle it out, 2009

By the end of his treatment, Ian had gone through 32 radiation sessions. After his radiation was complete, the hospital gave him a month off and then it was on to a full year for chemotherapy. All that time, Ian’s parents used his love of Star Wars to keep him strong. Using references from the Star Wars universe to help explain to him what was happening.

During his chemo and radiation, he was asked to be the honored child for the St. Baldricks fundraiser in Sioux Falls. The 501st legion provided the security detail. It was at this event that his father first learned about the 501st legion from Jamie Ladonski, one of Ian’s Storm Trooper guards.

In June 2009, Ian was given a trip to Disney World by the Make-A-Wish foundation. His favorite part was getting have a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader! Ian was able to have a meet in greet with Clone Wars director Dave Filoni, the voice of Asoka; Ashley Eckstein, and Captain Typho himself; Jay Lag’aia. Overall, the Disney employees and Make-A-Wish did a phenomenal job at making it a dream come true.

In April of 2010, Ian completed his Chemo and his “C-3PO” port was removed. All the tests showed he was cancer free!

Today, Ian is 9 years old and 3 years cancer free! His love of Star Wars continues to grow as well as his love of helping others. After losing his hair so often in therapy, Ian now enjoys having his head shaved so he can be a young Savage Opress at 501st events. He loves to troop alongside his father and their 501st legion squad.

Ian and his family, December 2011
Ian and his family, December 2011

Ian and his family are walking in St. Baldricks event for the 3rd year in a row. It It will be Ian’s third year shaving his head at an event that is set up to honor him as well as those with cancer.

This year Ian’s team is The 501st Galactic Legion. His fundraising goal for the event is $500. To help Ian in achieve his goal, please visit his team’s site. Every dollar raised goes to help a child fight harder.

May the Force be with them all!




Steve Jobs Has Passed Away


1955 - 2011 (Image: Apple.com)

Apple‘s co-founder and former CEO, Steve Jobs, has passed away. A statement was put out by the Apple Board of Directors announcing his death this evening.

Jobs had been ill, having suffered from cancer in 2004 as well as having a liver transplant in 2009. He announced his resignation as Apple’s CEO on August 24, 2011.

I know this news came as a shock for me, because I hadn’t realized how sick he had been. He was a great man and great inventor who really has shaped the world we live in today.

RIP Steve Jobs.

Fighting Cancer One Cupcake at a Time

Image: Frosting for the Cause

I am in full party-planning mode. This will be the baby’s first birthday and, as fate would have it, he was born exactly 6 years and 6 days after his sister, so we are having a joint party. Yes, their birthdays are not until April, but it takes planning to pull off a fantastic party, and who am I kidding, I love to plan parties!

While scouring the web for a chocolate cherry cupcake recipe I came across a wonderful blog, Frosting for the Cause. Every day throughout 2011 they have guest bloggers lined up to post tutorial recipes on what else, fabulous sweets! What makes this blog different is that each blogger shares a story of how cancer has touched the life of a woman they care about. In addition, they will be donating baked goods to a hospice and donating $25 towards research in curing cancers specific to women.

While I am not skilled enough to join their baking brigade, this seems like a unique way to help fund cancer research and get some fantastic recipes at the same time. Every recipe I looked at screamed “Make ME!” The recipe for the fantabulicious looking cherry cupcakes is here. Now if I only had Martha Stewart’s kitchen and Hermione’s time turner.

Used with permission from Sweetapolita.com