Colleen | Stage 2 Breast Cancer Survivor

We shot at the beautiful and one of my new favorite venues: Morning Glory Farm – Nan was so gracious, I can’t thank her enough.. she said they’d be honored to host more shoots. We are so thankful for that…. and also many thanks to to Katie from Makeup Your Face for doing an amazing job on Colleen’s makeup and hair.

Colleen was diagnosed in the summer of 2014 with Stage 2 Invasive Breast Cancer (hormone receptor positive). I’d met her while at a family reunion… she was dating my husband’s cousin. At the time, I was just finished with radiation and we instantly connected and stayed in touch…. she confided in me that she’d had a mammogram and that they were worried about it and she’d felt the lumps, but had been putting it off. She honestly did not want to know…  She underwent chemo and then double mastectomy and she had a terrible time with her healing. The tissue became necrotic and she ended up having to undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapies to try to breathe oxygen into the skin… ultimately, she ended up having 4 more reconstruction surgeries… She has truly struggled with becoming whole, again.

At the time, she had started a new cleaning business and was unfortunately unable to work due to the loss of strength in her upper body. In 2015 Colleen decided she was going to start real estate school, she needed to change the news and do something for herself. She just recently passed her SC Real Estate Exam and is now actively practicing as a real estate agent. So exciting for her!

In February of this year, she had her final reconstructive surgery taking fat from her tummy and creating breasts (DIEP FLAP). She is ultimately satisfied with her result and has decided to be content with her new body…

On the outside, Colleen exudes health and beauty and you wouldn’t know by looking at her from the outside all she’s gone through… she truly is stunning! However, as women… we all know that we are our own worst critics and it really can play into our self esteem. It’s so important that we have a realistic view of who we actually are… which is exactly why I wanted to create this project. I want women to feel beautiful and empowered…

Colleen’s take away from everything she’s been through… she wants all women to know: “The one mission statement that I can share with all woman is to please love yourself and all your imperfections.  Our unique features make us exactly who God meant for us to be. You never appreciate how beautiful you are until you have to remember yourself from before the scars.  Beauty comes from the heart and when the heart loves it’s a beautiful thing.  We need to learn to see through our hearts and not our eyes.”

Strength, beauty… empowered, that’s what I see! And, at the end of all this… you’ll see her business card. She is building her business in Myrtle Beach, SC… so if she receives a client or two out of this, it will be even more reason to empower her!

Colleen, I can’t tell you how beautiful you are (inside and out)! Cancer cannot take that from you….

If you need a SC realtor… feel free to give Colleen a call!

I hope you enjoyed being a part of The Sunshine Project…. and it brought you a little sunshine in your life!

The Sunshine Project – Michelle | Stage 4 Cholangiocarcinoma

Since I was been diagnosed with breast cancer I’ve talked about my Sunshine Project – empowering survivors of all types of cancer. I’ve dreamed of doing it for so long and for awhile was just unable to even focus on on it- but, after clean scans and a good report, it was time to do something else and take the focus off of me and my daily aches and pains…. I’m so proud and excited to launch this project!

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My first survivor – Michelle is someone near and dear to my heart, I met her via my boss and now dear friend at Ashley. Michelle is my boss’s sister in law – and while I’ve known the both of them – I’ve cried with them and for them… as I’ve rode the roller coaster of cancer with them. It’s true as they say “when one person in the family has cancer, everyone has cancer”… This family rallies together, fights together, cries together, empowers one another…. looks out for one another, it’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

In 2011, Michelle thought she was having a gallbladder attack which later turned out to be diagnosed as Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer). As it’s been explained to me, this is a rare cancer and at first, they didn’t know the origin of Michelle’s cancer and it took a lot of testing to determine that the mass in her liver was in fact originating from the bile duct. When I first met my boss in 2014, Michelle was NED (no evidence of disease) and her cancer was in dormancy. Later in 2015, Michelle had extreme back pain and learned that the cancer has spread to her bones. At first, she thought it was a herniated disc… but it was indeed metastatic cancer. “Sometimes” cancer is activated – they don’t know why or what causes it… but when this happens, it’s almost as if the cancer is angry and it seems to come back with vengeance. Michelle lovingly and not so lovingly refers to the lesion in her back, “Sally The Toad”… On MRI, it resembled a toad… and so Sally The Toad, it became.

This family has gone through so much…  the cancer spread to her brain, her lungs and it’s back in her liver. I’m summarizing, because honestly… there’s so much to be told in between all of these lines. This family watches this woman endure chemo that sickens her so badly, has made her body swell from the treatments and steroids.. to the point she couldn’t have treatment because she gets so sick. And, as of late… they are truly grasping to give her answers as to what’s left in the way of treatments for her. She has done trials and the trials won’t accept her cancer anymore. Michelle has active end stage 4 cancer. When they told Michelle this, she told them…. to blast the tumor with chemo in hopes it will shrink enough they can radiate it. She is willing to do whatever it takes…. and then some to fight against this disease. She is not just a survivor, she is a Warrior.

Michelle truly looked radiant in the photos we took – she had one day to feel truly beautiful and to forget about cancer …. only to start chemo again the very next day. Her family struggles with the possibility of the outcome – because it is truly the fear of the unknown at this point. Michelle is a fighter… she was told 6 years ago, she had months to live and here she is 6 years later, still combating against this raging disease inside her body. She is a nurse practitioner and she is educated in every aspect of her cancer and battles with these doctors and when they give her bad news, she gives them a rebuttal. She isn’t going to take cancer, lying down. She will fight until her body can’t fight any longer and quite honestly, I believe she will overcome this, she is just a feisty, strong and amazing woman!

As I said before, Michelle has a career as a Nurse Practitioner at the VA hospital in Salisbury. Additionally, she is a wife of over 20 years… a mother of two beautiful kids who you will see in the photos… she is a sister, an aunt, a daughter, a friend…. and a support system to many other cholangiocarcinoma survivors. She has become a voice in their community…

Onto the photos….

I’d love to give credit to the beautiful venue: The Victorian Crow’s Nest

Hair and Makeup: Makeup Your Face

In the midst of feeling so beautiful, came the tears…. and overwhelming rush of emotions….

  Beautiful black and whites…. 

Her family totally unscripted or prompted snuck in to see what we were doing and we captured these shots…

The love that she and her husband, Darren have is truly apparent! The way they look at each other is truly beautiful…. you can see love, but you can also see sadness, concern and also, hope…

Then of course, her reasons to fight with fury…. Alex and Tori. These children  have had a lot on their plate over these past few years… and it was truly amazing to see the love they have for their Mom!

This is Michelle’s Mom Faye – who is also a two time breast cancer survivor…

Here are a few more photos of Michelle and Darren…

In the photo below, I could’ve removed the sun flare at the bottom, but…. I felt it added beauty to this photo….

Here are some pictures of the family having fun together!! I love the photo of them with their arms in the air… I feel like it represents their strength and unity!

It was truly an honor to be a part of such a beautiful day! I enjoyed every moment of it! I know it brought some sunshine to their lives, because they’ve already told me how much! Stay tuned for next week’s survivor….