Karen Cleary’s Breast Cancer Survivor Story – Northern California Documentary Photographer

beat cancer newborn

Please bear with me, this will be a lengthy post, but well worth reading.  Over a year ago, Karen got the news that she was pregnant.  Shortly after, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Thus, her journey began and I had the honor of documenting her road to recovery.  It wasn’t going to be an easy path, but it was a path that she would take gracefully and kick breast cancer’s butt!  Karen is one badass woman, mother, and wife.  I am truly blessed to call her my friend.

So, let me take you on this journey…

Once Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer, things had to move pretty quickly since Karen’s cancer was estrogen receptor positive and the high levels of estrogen from pregnancy were potentially making the cancer grow rapidly.  We decided to do a “boob voyage” photoshoot before she had to go through a mastectomy and chemo.  The goal was to help Karen document her current state before things would forever be changed.  During our session, we got to talking about everything, it was real, it was natural, and it was raw.  It was a sucky situation.  But I saw beauty in it.  I got to see how much love and strength this family had and I knew that they would come out of it stronger!

intimate couple in-home boob voyageboob voyage intimate couple session

Once Karen reached the second trimester of her pregnancy, she began her chemo treatment.  As most of you probably know, one of the side effects is hair loss.  Karen made the decision to shave her head instead of letting her hair slowly fall out.  And I must say, she totally rocked the look!  I also loved how she included her family in the experience.  She wanted to make sure her little boy, Dom, felt included and didn’t find the whole process scary.

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Next up!?!?  Maternity shoot time.  And of course, I had to step up my game for this one.  There was no way I could do a good ol’ run of the mill maternity session.  Karen needed something different,  something special.  So that is exactly what we came up with together.  We decided on an underwater maternity session.  It was a blast and still one of my most memorable sessions.

underwater maternity underwater family portraitsunderwater maternity cancer pregnant

Karen took a break from Chemo towards the end of her pregnancy and prepared for the arrival of her baby girl.  Giuliana (Gigi) arrived in early August and is nothing short from perfection.  She came out healthy, strong, and was already showing the signs of a true survivor.  I visited them at the hospital only hours after her arrival for their fresh 48 session.

Side note:  I love the little receiving blankets that Mercy uses.  How could you not love those little orange elephants.

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And then I got to photograph Gigi again a few days after for her in-home newborn session.  It was a nice change of pace for the Cleary’s.  This session was full on joy, laughter, and excitement.

Giuliana Cleary newborn in-home newborn beat cancer newborn posed newborn

Shortly after Gigi’s birth, Karen restarted her chemo treatment.  For Karen’s last day of Chemo finally arrived and I was invited once again to document her experience.  Some of our mommy friends decided to take the opportunity to surprise her and help her celebrate her last day of Chemo.  It was a joyous day that we had all been waiting for.

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Fast forward to this summer.  Gigi turned one and Karen has been done with active chemo treatment  for almost a year now.  She’s been getting immunotherapy infusions every 3 weeks and celebrated her last infusion on October 10th! The port she has had in her chest since the beginning of treatment will be removed October 12th.  Karen is in a medically induced menopause and takes medication to block estrogen production in her body, and will do so for years to come. There are lot of side effects to deal with but she is genuinely grateful for every day she gets to be here with family, friends, and especially her two kids.  Karen wants everyone to be aware that breast cancer can happen
to anyone, no matter how young or pregnant you are!  It’s important to check yourself.

Congratulations to Karen!  You kicked breast cancer’s butt and did it with such grace.  With that, I would like to end this post with Gigi’s one year photoshoot.

I hope you enjoyed this walk down memory lane.  Cheers!

one year old sign one year old balloon one year old balloon

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