The following isn’t the most “fun” post I’ve made, but something that I’ve passed around privately to fellow caregivers, survivors and medical-types. The feedback has been that the images are important and responsible (they also won the Pulitzer Prize)… so with the warning that they are not pleasant, I hope you find that they might spark a moment of reflection and appreciation!
After a few weeks of sharing perspectives on everything from marathons to cancer through the medium of photography, I’ve had an overwhelming response from folks who have been touched by this concept of “Survivor” and “Caregiver.”
Survivors overcome obstacles like disease, hardship and challenge… and Caregivers are synonymous with medical technicians, providers and those that clean up the “messiness” of disease and hardship.
Since my sister was diagnosed with cancer I’ve shifted my definitions in very real and dramatic ways. First and foremost, I’ve learned that survivors sometimes don’t actually survive. I’ve met dozens of inspiring survivors who never fully overcome their diseases. “Survivor” is not a label just for those who are victorious.
I’ve also learned that survivors include those family members and friends touched by the challenge of cancer… and those same Survivors are quite often the primary Caregivers.
It’s an incredibly difficult dual role to play. To have the discipline of an objective practitioner, while bearing the burden of anguish, sadness or just the “real life” stress of financial and logistical challenges is often overwhelming.
To add to our visual library of both Survivors and Caregivers, I’ve included an incredible collection from The Sacramento Bee’s photographer Renee Byer. Her photography chronicles the journey of one single mother caring for her son and his cancerous stomach tumor. The duality of the mother’s role is obvious… first Caregiver, Survivor and then back again. It’s an impossible task, and one that we can barely comprehend.
As trained medical professionals, documentary photojournalists and associate supporters of those on the front lines, it’s important to remember that who we focus on depends on the specific moment we engage them. Understanding the plurality of each character adds depth and complexity to every scene.
It’s an important subtlety that we all struggle to balance: we all know the importance of “instinct” and “anticipation” as caregivers and journalists… but these images remind me of how important it is to stay in the moment, assume nothing and to take every event for the uniqueness that it is.
With that said, Renee Byer does a fantastic job capturing one mother’s journey and challenges me to rethink some of the assumptions I make when encountering an “obvious” scene to be documented. With depth and sensitivity, Renee illuminates the fact that the Caregiver is also the Survivor… and the roles held by one person can shift without notice.
Here is the complete story including narrative… amazing stuff. (click NEXT to see each photo)