Amazing Strength Gallery Exhibit

Amazing Strength – an after cancer Experience

I had the honor to photograph 39 incredible women, unique in their personalities, occupations, size, hair color and cancer treatments. I needed to photograph them so they could see themselves as the world sees them – beautiful and strong.

Each one of these women have been told those words we’ve all grown to fear – “you have cancer”.  They dealt with their diagnosis, a variety of treatment, then decided to join Team Phoenix – a 14 week training program to complete their first triathlon. Crazy…especially for some of these women who had never swam before the training. The swim part of the triathlon was 1/4 mile in open water (in a lake, with seaweed, and fish, and many other swimmers). A 15 mile bike ride and 3.5 mile run/walk follow the swim.

I was a Team Phoenix 2017 Athlete. (You’re called ‘athlete’ on day 1 of training…sure beats being  labelled ‘cancer survivor’). I watched so many women work really hard during practices – as I tried really hard to keep up with some of the others. Once in the water and my nerves calmed down a bit on race day, I finished the swim, biked, ran and crossed the finish line. I was able to watch as some of my fellow teammates finished, some in tears, others jumping for joy. They did it! They set out a crazy goal for themselves and completed it.

I saw such beauty in their smiles, in their joy, laughter & tears…their new-found confidence and strength. Their Amazing Strength.  I knew I had to create their portrait. A portrait of their strength. So they will exist in a photograph for all time.

That’s how my ‘Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience’ personal project began. I asked for 25 volunteers from Team Phoenix – looking for all shapes and sizes. I was slightly blown away when I received almost 50 responses. I scheduled the first 25 women for a consultation and session. The consultation is part of my usual photography workflow. I want to know their story – I want to know who they are, I’m always thinking how I can make their image, their portrait unique, authentic, honest and different than anyone else’s image.

As I spoke with the first few women I realized that this group, Team Phoenix, has had an incredible impact on all of us. We were able to be our regular self – not someone who has cancer. We were able to get to know each other as we swam, biked and ran/walked in practice. For many of us, we had no idea what type of cancer our fellow athletes had. It didn’t matter. Cancer united us and allowed us to sign up for this life-changing experience. Cancer didn’t otherwise define us.

When we crossed the finish line of the triathlon, we became Team Phoenix Alumni. Although the entry fee is steep (cancer diagnosis required), it’s an association I’m honored to be part of. I realized this group of women will step up, step in and stand by your side when you need support, a good laugh, a shoulder to lean on or someone to ride their bike with you.

One of our Team Phoenix 2017 sisters passed away from cancer before I could take her photograph for this project. As my heart broke, my sense of urgency to photograph as many women as I could moved me into action. Sometimes the energy of the universe puts people in your path at the right time. My TP (Team Phoenix) sister, Jill, stepped in to organize the remaining consultations and photo sessions. In a true testament to the TP attitude, each of the athletes showed up for their session…in the Wisconsin winter months (wind, rain, below freezing temperatures, wind, snow, cold, wind)…with unbreakable spirit.

I am honored with their trust in me to photograph them. For some, swim/bike/run was probably easier than sitting in front of a camera for a photo session.

So, you may be wondering about the cancer part…
Sometimes even a photograph doesn’t tell the entire story. This group of powerful women have overcome so many obstacles. They’ve heard the dreaded words “you have cancer”. They have dealt with surgeries leaving scars in place, always a reminder. They’ve faced treatment in many forms often living with lasting side effects. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, co-workers,  your boss and your best friend. They have also crossed the finish line of a triathlon. They define Amazing Strength.

39 Amazing Strength portraits include:
Athletes with many stages and types of breast cancer
Several triple negative breast cancer athletes (one celebrated 5 years! & another 10 years!)
5 year brain cancer athlete
Thyroid cancer athlete
Skin cancer athlete
One athlete who crossed the finish line while actively on chemo for a reoccurrence of ovarian cancer
Cervical, uterine, breast cancers…one athlete
An incredible assortment of chemotherapy, surgeries, reconstruction stories & radiation treatments

To those we’ve lost
& to those we’ve found
Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience
Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

Team Phoenix reaffirmed who I was as a woman.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

Cancer is life-changing in a bad way…Team Phoenix is life-changing in a good way.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I learned I will never give up on myself.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I sometimes hate talking about cancer.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I’ve taken ownership of my health & body to keep myself alive.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

Cancer didn’t have control of me anymore.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

Crossing the finish line I was ’emotionally restored’.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I am Strong Proud Alive & Redefined.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

It’s a sisterhood – they get me & I get them.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

There are silver linings in everything.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

Every day is a gift.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

Before TP I was too focused on dying to really LIVE.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

Team Phoenix allowed me to love myself.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I’m optimistic about everything.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I found my inner athlete.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I look at the bright side.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I’m getting my competitive nature back.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

Team Phoenix sounded way too badass to NOT do it.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

Team Phoenix was good for my whole family.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

Best place I’ve been in years & years.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I love this new ME – a big awakening.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

Gave me pride to do the program & to finish it.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

We pushed each other to be our best.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I wanted to show my kids that things happen in life–
pick yourself up and do positive things.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

Team Phoenix made me a better leader at work.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

Team Phoenix is a cancer-free zone.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I’m a resilient fighter.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I find joy on my bike.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

Team Phoenix allowed me to love myself.

Amazing Strength-an after cancer experience

I felt I could start my life on a new page.

Amazing Strength an after cancer experience

We built a connection, a trust.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I felt alive again.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I found a strength I didn’t know I had.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I’m proud of myself.

Amazing Strength an after cancer experience

I have a new sense of what I can accomplish.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

Until Team Phoenix, I was a woman with cancer waiting for bad news.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I’m optimistic about everything.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

The day of the Tri, I knew it was a day of celebration.

Amazing Strength – an after cancer experience

I surpassed the barriers.

The 39 women in the black & white images are redefined by crossing the finish line of a triathlon after cancer diagnosis & treatment. Each of the women pictured has a story of courage & Amazing Strength. In their strength, I see their beauty which will exist for all time in their photograph. I’m grateful to each one of them for sharing their time, their story and their enthusiasm to be part of this project.

We all had a cancer diagnosis, cancer treatment, then signed up for a triathlon with Team Phoenix. A life-changing event that bonded women into sisters over 14 weeks of training. I was inspired by my teammates who had never swam prior to training, then swam 1/4 mile in a lake, biked 15 miles then ran/walked a 5k. Crossing the finish line was a moment like no other.

Team Phoenix was formed in 2011 by incredible people, innovative doctors who have seen the affects of cancer on women. A breast surgeon, a cancer physical therapist and a research oncologist. Together, they convinced a handful of women to be Team Phoenix. Since then, the team has grown each year. There are 60 athletes who will begin their training for TP2019 and take part in their triathlon in July. Strong Proud Alive & Redefined #SPAR.

This is a recap of the beautiful energy during the reveal & gallery opening:

https://video214.com/play/RERoUvdeOTshhj0AiTE5aQ/s/dark

To view & purchase photos and the photo book:

view/purchase photos

Photo book here

Donate to Amazing Strength:
http://www.plumfund.com/fundraising/AmazingStrength

2 thoughts on “Amazing Strength Gallery Exhibit

  1. I am so impressed and humbled. These women have gone beyond any expectations…..what courage…what sisterhood. Thank you, Wendy, for capturing their elemental female beauty and strength, and for sharing it.

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