Truthfully, I’m not sure how to start this post. Yes, I can skip right to the photos (and so can you), but I hope you’ll take the time to read what I have to say before skipping onto the good part.
If you are in Central Florida, there’s a good chance you know who Michele Mann is. Before being “the makeup artist who is going through hell,” she was “Michele Mann, M3’s owner and lead makeup artist.” She was just entering her 30’s and loving life to its full potential! When we heard about each other, we met up for coffee to get acquainted. I remember looking at her perfect blonde hair and adorable dress (I think it was white…don’t ask me how I remember that!) and thinking “ahh, I adore this girl and want to be her friend!” There was something so charming about her! Needless to say, we hit it off immediately. The next time we saw each other was at the open house for our studio. After that…everything went downhill for her..and fast.
I remember seeing some posts on Facebook about how she was diagnosed with a rare and awful form of cancer (acute lymphoblastic leukemia). Then, she started something that I knew would be such a great outlet for her, and also an inspiration for others. She started her own blog where she wrote anything and everything…no filters! Definitely make sure to check out the blog in that link!
In the middle of her chemotherapy, she and I decided we’re going to do something fun. Something to kind-of-sort-of take their mind off of all of the hell they’re going through (they being her and her family, of course). We met up for a No One Fights Alone session (<–take a look!), and while I know they had a good time, I could also tell Michele was really struggling. All of the medication she was on was making it physically difficult for her to even smile (as in…her skin was so tight that she literally could barely form a smile without pain). Regardless, she put on that Michele fighter face and made damned sure she was going to let herself have some fun that morning! I think it was that day, or shortly after, that we decided when she is better, we will do a Cancervivor Session.
As we talked about the details of her session, it quickly morphed from just a standard photo shoot to something extra special. Details came together from where we would do the session (our studio), to what outfits she would wear (including gorgeous dresses from Solutions Bridal!), all the way to having a few custom items put together for her (a cocoon made by her friend Greg, and a stunning floral wall by Dazzling Deco!).
I gave her one homework assignment to work on before the session, which was to come up with 3-4 stages of her experience with cancer, and provide me with some quotes that represent each stage (and that helped push her to where she is today).
Each stage is represented in the photos below. Michele is such a fighter, which you can see from reading her blog. She has been through hell and back, and that blondie who I met a few years ago is now a new (brunette!) woman who is full of even more life than before the awful C-word. She has been an inspiration to me, and I know to so many others. There are moments you take for granted, and there are “experiences” you let get under your skin which are so meaningless (her example that always sticks with me is getting mad when you’re stuck in traffic…what a waste of energy!). She has shown me how to love the life you’re given, appreciate those around you, and live every moment to its fullest. It’s not always possible, we all know this, but if we can take a moment to stop and think about what’s happening and whether this is really something to be upset about, I think everyone be much happier all around.
Below are the images which represent Michele’s journey through surviving cancer. The studio was full of excitement, and a little sadness while reliving her low moments, the day of this session. We played different music for each stage that would help pull Michele into the direction of that moment.
Stage 1 – In the Cocoon: This is before her transplant. This is finding out she has cancer, doing chemotherapy, taking pills, and essentially becoming very sick and weak. Her prognosis was extremely poor at this point, and had she come in much later, chances of survival would have been even slimmer.
Stage 2 – Rebirth: This is when she received her stem cell transplant. The future was such an unknown, and it was terrifying for her and her family. With the gorgeous custom cocoon made from scratch from a friend of Michele’s, we were able to represent her emerging into a new, beautiful, healthy butterfly!
Stage 3 – Enlightenment: From her rebirth, she began gaining strength both physically and mentally, though there were still many unknowns circling her life. “Moment,” the first dress she is wearing, captures the period of her life where though there were bad days (hospital visits and more), the good days were starting to emerge.
Stage 4 – Hope of Life: The new Michele! She is alive, in remission, and has a future ahead of her. She’s also even more spunky than before! Michele is now on a mission to inspire others, to find her voice, and to lead a happy and healthy life.
Stage 1 – In the Cocoon
Stage 2 – Rebirth
Stage 3 – Enlightenment
Stage 4 – Hope of Life
If you are interested in sharing these photos, please make sure to credit ALL vendors involved (listed below) out of respect for Michele and the team who put this shoot together. Please ensure to never crop out logos or alter the photos in any way. Thank you!
Photographer: Sivan Photography
Studio: Studio Adorn
Dresses: Solutions Bridal
Custom Floral Wall: Dazzling Deco
Custom Cocoon: Greg (friend of Michele’s)
Hair and Makeup: M3 Makeup
Behind the scenes video of Enlightenment: