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
Team Phoenix reaffirmed who I was as a woman.
Cancer is life-changing in a bad way…Team Phoenix is life-changing in a good way.
I learned I will never give up on myself.
I sometimes hate talking about cancer.
I’ve taken ownership of my health & body to keep myself alive.
Cancer didn’t have control of me anymore.
Crossing the finish line I was ’emotionally restored’.
I am Strong Proud Alive & Redefined.
It’s a sisterhood – they get me & I get them.
There are silver linings in everything.
Every day is a gift.
Before TP I was too focused on dying to really LIVE.
Team Phoenix allowed me to love myself.
I’m optimistic about everything.
I found my inner athlete.
I look at the bright side.
I’m getting my competitive nature back.
Team Phoenix sounded way too badass to NOT do it.
Team Phoenix was good for my whole family.
Best place I’ve been in years & years.
I love this new ME – a big awakening.
Gave me pride to do the program & to finish it.
We pushed each other to be our best.
I wanted to show my kids that things happen in life–
pick yourself up and do positive things.
Team Phoenix made me a better leader at work.
Team Phoenix is a cancer-free zone.
I’m a resilient fighter.
I find joy on my bike.
Team Phoenix allowed me to love myself.
I felt I could start my life on a new page.
We built a connection, a trust.
I felt alive again.
I found a strength I didn’t know I had.
I’m proud of myself.
I have a new sense of what I can accomplish.
Until Team Phoenix, I was a woman with cancer waiting for bad news.
I’m optimistic about everything.
The day of the Tri, I knew it was a day of celebration.
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:
To view & purchase photos and the photo book:
Donate to Amazing Strength:
Celebrating 39 women and their Amazing Strength in photographs. Redefined by crossing the finish line of a triathlon after cancer diagnosis & treatment.
I’ve been doing a lot of celebrating recently…my son’s graduation from Army Logistics University, a visually-stimulating visit to Cuba, and a clean mammogram this week. In the middle of all that, I’m hanging photographs of incredible women in a gallery exhibit. Amazing Strength is my personal photography project showing each woman her courage, strength and beauty which will exist in a photograph for all time.
They are images of your girlfriend, your wife, your sister, your boss.
I watched my teammates train for 14 weeks. Some crossed the finish line laughing and elated, others sobbing in tears. Strong, Proud, Alive & Redefined. I saw their strength and in their strength, I saw their beauty. I needed to photograph these women! Many had never swam before, others hadn’t been on a bicycle in 30 years, yet they signed up to do a triathlon. Cancer didn’t stop these women – it made them more determined to live.
We were all Team Phoenix athletes and now, Team Phoenix Alumni.
The exhibit opens Saturday, March 9, 2019 6-9pm and closes March 17th, 4pm. Every day I’ll give a gallery talk at 2pm. Genetti Gardens & Studio, 611 Bleeker Street, Delafield, Wisconsin.
Amazing Strength, Phase 2 is in the creative process. Any and all donations are gratefully accepted at http://www.plumfund.com/fundraising/amazingstrength
You are a masterpiece of nature and deserve to be a work of art, hanging in the most important galleries for the world to see.
And just as the Phoenix rose from the ashes, she too will rise.
Returning from the flames, clothed in nothing but her strength,
more beautiful than ever before. SHeartz
Kicked Cancer √
Completed Triathalon √
Updated Professional Headshots √
Even in her “before” image, she’s a beautiful woman!
Professional Headshots and Personal Branding
Wendy Andrews Photography
Warm air, sunshine, swimming pool…what could be better than a summer photo session?
The inspiration was an outdoor light box – a tent-like structure with billowy sheer white curtains filtering out the sunshine above a kids’ pool partially filled with water and two sisters posed beautifully in it….and photographs!
Flexibility & a sense of humor are key when the wind was blowing, the temperature an unusual cool day for July and…a very gray, hazy sky.
The sisters who came to model were wonderful in their attitude. Even as I boiled water and poured it into the pool, their teeth chattered yet they kept their spirits up!
Before images are beautiful young women.
After professional hair & make up artistry they are ready for the photo session.
What could be better than warm air, sunshine, a swimming pool for a summer photo session?
Stepping out of my comfort zone.
48 hours before I sat in front of my cell phone and did the Facebook Live broadcast (below), I had also been an Uber virgin and I had never walked down Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles at night. Having navigated the streets of LA (was booked at an AirBnb just off Skid Row) and managed to get to LAX on time via Uber, I decided Facebook live was next on my list.
As a Portrait photographer, I had been presenting beautiful Folio Boxes with matted prints to my clients at their Reveal session – each client falling in love with their images, purchasing them and taking them home that day in the Folio Box. I deliver their custom enlargements and wall art as soon as their order arrives.
Then, I fell in love! The video shows me unwrapping my newest product – a Reveal Box, hand-made in Italy! The Reveal Box has a clear, picture frame style lid so the matted images can remain in the box AND the box can stand upright on a shelf as a framed display of the top image! (the old folio box was a satin covered box).
The Facebook Live video was for Portrait Photographers to see the details of this new product available only to professional photographers. I’m so excited to offer this product to my Portrait clients – it’s a stunning presentation of the gorgeous images we create together and a place for their legacy portraits to live. A gift for the next generation.
We need to exist in photographs. We need to be celebrated.
Next step out of my comfort zone? I have a few ideas!
Details: 11 x 14 box, holding 20 matted images.
#WendysFlowerWall is my recent project where women are given an opportunity to select one word to follow “I am…” Women volunteer – some after a yoga class, some on a Saturday morning, most without advanced notice, therefore, no make-up application or hair adjustment.
I’m grateful to the women who feel confident in their skin to be in front of my camera, knowing their image would be used on social media and on the internet.
My Flower Wall project started when the winter darkness dragged on and I anticipated spring. I decided to create my own spring with colors out of my comfort zone….and #Wendy’sFlowerWall was born.
It’s my mission to help women see their beauty and their strength through Portraits. Sadly, so many women feel they aren’t good enough, skinny enough, pick-something-enough to have portraits of themselves done.
The thing is, a professional portrait of you today will out-last you. It’s a gift for your children, for your parents, for your girlfriends, for your sisters….for eternity.
My mission continues with my Flower Wall. To provide positive thoughts to women, to remind them…us…that we are strong, confident, remarkable, fearless, inspired, enough….
and beautiful beyond measure.
In the moments when I took these images, I had the opportunity to hear some of the stories behind the word selection. (I provided a variety of words). Some stories were incredible and heartfelt.
Everyone has a unique and powerful story.
What is yours?
How would you like to tell it?
For beautiful eyes,
look for the good in others;
For beautiful lips,
Speak only words of kindness;
And for poise,
walk with the knowledge
that you are never alone.
A beautiful, young couple. In love and waiting for the arrival of their first child.
It was an honor to get to know them during their Maternity Portrait session.
They enjoy the outdoors and nature and were hoping to have their portraits
in the woods.
We were fortunate with a peek of sunshine on the day, it made the below freezing temperatures seem warmer, at least.
At their Image Reveal last night, they were excited to see the photographs
and relieved they didn’t look as cold in the images as we were while taking the photos.
Memories preserved for a life-time. She will never be eight months pregnant
with her first child again, except in her Maternity Portraits.