I really didn’t know how to start this post. In my heart, this story has been written a thousand times over already. The story in my heart is so dear to me that I didn’t want to ruin it with words.
Baby Addison was born with a heart condition and cancer cells in her body. At first glance, you would never know she was going through any kind of treatment.
I met Addison for the first time back in March - Sojung and I were in Houston for the weekend with our friends, Amy and Scott. After a night out, we came back to our hotel around midnight. As we crossed the parking garage to the hotel lobby doors, we ran into a young couple, Jose and Jennifer, with Addison seated in a stroller and several suitcases. Their suitcases were fairly large and looked as if they were planning on staying at the hotel for weeks. I couldn’t help but ask if I could help, so Scott and I each grabbed what we could and helped them to the elevator.
We quickly learned that they were also from Dallas and that created an instant connection. Expecting them to tell us they were vacationing or visiting family, we were shocked to hear that they were in Houston for Addison’s radiation therapy. My heart seemed to stop for a moment. Addison looked so normal - just minutes before, I had been joking about how Addison must be a night owl because she was bouncing around and smiling in her stroller.
By this time, we were in the elevator, going up. In that short moment, I didn’t know what to do. I felt very compelled to do something, and I found myself struggling to open my mouth. I wanted to say, “Will you allow me to tell your story?” I was mad at myself for whatever held my tongue. The elevator stopped on their floor and we said our goodbyes. As the doors began to close, I heard God say, “GO! Be faithful!” and I stuck my hand out to stop the elevator and ran out to them.
“I am a portrait photographer and I feel very compelled to tell you this. Could I invite you into our studio and photograph Addison? I would love to tell your story.”
I was sweating; what if they thought I was being crazy, or worse, being rude?
Fortunately, they were very excited and we exchanged information and promised to keep in touch.
A hope I have for my career is to tell meaningful stories. But honestly, offering up my photography in faith is hard - my brain takes over my heart and I wonder if I’m good enough, if my photos will tell their story well. However, I knew that it wasn’t just coincidence that we had met them in the elevator. Addison’s story is filled with their love and courage and I wanted to share it.
The rest of the trip, I couldn’t stop thinking about Addison. I set up an email reminder to follow up with the family on a weekly basis. Even Sojung wanted me to make sure to keep in touch with them; Amy and Scott also wanted to help out in any way they could. This young family had touched all of our hearts.
A couple of weeks later, Jennifer emailed me:
"Would you be available on Saturday, April 12th? Addison's last day of radiation is the 8th and she starts chemo in a few weeks. If it's possible, I'd love to have pictures of her with her hair. It's been a long time since her hair was this long and she'll lose it with the chemo…”
I was so excited to see them again.
The time we had with them in the studio was unique. There were smiles and tears from Addison. It was a very new and different environment for her in the studio. At the beginning of the photo shoot, Addison was afraid of me and my camera. Her main doctor is an Asian man; as I approached her with big black object she’d never seen before, she immediately associated me as being just another doctor that might hurt her in some way. She burst out crying.
Thankfully, I have learned a lot about how to make young children comfortable so I can photograph them in their natural state. I put my camera aside for a little while and played with her. I quickly learned that her attention level is amazing. Amy had brought some bright colored boxes and confetti for Addison to play with - it was such a great idea! Addison loved playing with the little pieces of paper and was able to concentrate on one thing like I’ve never seen before. I work with a lot of kids and this is unusual.
Later, Jennifer told me that Addison has learned to play with limited toys and space for long periods of time because she often does extended stays in the hospital.
For everything she’s been through, Addison is full of life and character, so much personality. She has this fake laugh. It’s so adorable and I can’t describe it with words - you just have to see her do it. And when she actually smiles at you, your heart will melt. I still smile just thinking about it.
Addison loved playing with the confetti and the boxes...
but had no interest in any of the toys we had brought for her. She literally threw them aside.
Thank you for being such a great model, Addison!
Keep up with Addison and how she is doing by liking their Facebook page, Pray for Addison Grace.
Floral Crown made by the talented Amy Kerstetter. Contact us if you would like to get in touch with Amy or learn more her work.