Featured post

Torrie: WARRIOR STORY

THIS IS TORRIE.

1

I met Torrie a few years back at a wedding I was shooting. We hit it off during our time together on the day and stayed in contact on social media over the years, encouraging one another as friends from a distance and watching one another grow and flourish. After a time of mostly online friendship, we managed to carve out time to get together over wine and chat. We got to know one another well and build our friendship into something tangible and strong. With that build up came understanding. With that understanding came trust. With trust came the development of a project that Torrie and I feel wildly passionate about working on together and sharing through Katherine Elyse Photography.

The story presented here is all Torrie’s. As her friend and photographer, I hope the images act as a vessel for her to share her experience in a way that is safe and accurate. I’m using her words, taken directly from an interview my good friend David N. Sachs conducted the day of her shoot, with a few back end tweaks by Torrie to round everything out.

THIS IS HER BATTLE STORY.

“This is the story of my journey into loving myself and body acceptance, into feeling comfortable in my own skin.”

2

“In 2005, I was diagnosed with Stage 2B Cervical Cancer. Before that, I had had a number of different cervical changes related to HPV, which is pretty common nowadays. But in 2005, it was less common and all I knew about HPV was that it was one letter off from HIV- which meant that it had no cure and that it was sexually transmitted- and that it could either cause warts or cervical cancer. And the warts never came.

I had HPV prior to the cancer diagnosis. I actually found out that I had HPV from a clinical trial at the hospital when I was 12 years old– after I had been sexually assaulted.”

….

“As a religious kid, having a sexually transmitted disease is a good way to be looked down upon, no matter how you got it. Especially when you are 12 years old. I had to start making up stories about my life and my body so that I felt accepted in my own skin and so that I wouldn’t be shunned from the community.

It didn’t really work.

I was still shunned from my community and felt a lot of shame about who I was and felt mostly like it was my fault that I had been assaulted.”

3

“I was diagnosed with cancer at 19. I had just gotten married and I felt like I earned it- that it was my fault that I had cancer and, therefore, really just needed to do anything that I was told. I didn’t ask any questions about what was supposed to happen to me or if I had a choice in anything concerning my care. And so over a period of three years I was led through my care without having asked any questions at all. I didn’t have time.

At the end of that three years I had had seven surgeries that completely mangled my body (especially my sexual organs) and ruined my marriage with my husband because I couldn’t have kids, which was an important thing to him.  And, let’s face it: being young and married to someone with cancer is really scary. I didn’t know that I couldn’t have kids until after treatment ended because I didn’t stop to ask any questions; I didn’t care about myself or about my body enough to actually do something about it to take control or to even feel like I had a choice in my decisions.”

“I started out having an unhealthy relationship with myself in relation to others before I actually even knew who I was or what I wanted. I spent 20 years believing that it was my fault and that I was being punished for something that was outside of my control.”

4

“But I have a different relationship with my body and myself because I had cervical cancer.”

“I learned more about myself in the process of having cancer than anything that I had gone through beforehand. I learned that I wanted to give back to the healthcare system to help make sure that people, especially people going through an illness, know what their choices are, and are educated about how to sit across the table from a doctor who they often feel has more power and knowledge than they do. I was really interested in figuring out how we do that, how we slow down the process of decision making in healthcare. I ended up going to school for public health, focusing specifically on people who are vulnerable- poor populations, minorities, people who don’t have a lot of education or power. Because I went through this process of needing to understand my resources more than anybody else. I wanted to give power to other people and a voice to other people.”

“When you are cancer free for 5 years, you are supposed to have a party, and I was not going to have cancer againuntil I did.” 

5

And this was a completely different situation than last time. The tumor was outside my body, and it was going to change the way that the outside of my body appeared; and I didn’t have the ability to control how I shared it. Also, it was close to my clitoris, and I really liked my clitoris. I didn’t find that out until my late 20’s, in between my two bouts of cancer. I had discovered this magical thing that could give me sexual pleasure and made me feel powerful, and now it was just going to be taken away from me.”

6

This time, though, I wasn’t going to just be led through my treatment without asking any questions.

I was almost immediately offered a complete vulvectomy, which is basically “we’re just going to remove everything on the outside, including your clitoris.” I made sure to ask that question. But my oncologist had already scheduled the surgery for me, without even asking if I wanted it or not.

So immediately this became a different situation then my first bout with cancer. During my first bout, it was a big deal but I was at least pretty confident that I was going to live. This time, it was a later stage of cancer and a lot more serious, so I knew that I needed to make some decisions. But I was ill-equipped to make them.”

7

“I still didn’t really like myself, and I still held this view that I deserved it or I was being punished for somehow not figuring out how to get out of that situation from when I was 12. I had to learn that my body was worth fighting for. That my dignity was worth fighting for.

So I had a consultation with a social worker in palliative care who asked me what my goals were in life. What mattered to me. She told me that I actually had a very good prognosis. I was likely to live through this circumstance. And so we started talking about what was important to me in life going forward.

And I had three goals:

The first goal was that I wanted to maintain sexual function. I knew that I couldn’t have children and so having sex was really important to me. I had just learned about my clitoris. I was going to keep my relationship with it.”

8

“The second is that I’m a cyclist, so I wanted to be able to cycle. It’s the place where I clear my mind. With that surgery, I actually wouldn’t have been able to ride a bicycle ever again.”

9

“The third was that I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and not feel mangled. It had nothing to do with the relationship that I had with somebody else or having sex with somebody else and not wanting them to look at me in a different light. It had everything to do with being able to look in the mirror myself and feel like a whole person.”

10

“It was really empowering to make the decision to do what was best for my body. For me. It’s only been recently that I can say that I never needed to be forgiven for something that happened to me that wasn’t my fault. I’ve learned a lot about the fact that the mindset being carried on throughout my life kept me, in a lot of ways, the same age I was when I was assaulted.

And I feel like the moment that I let go of all of the shame that I had about my body, about things that happened to me, I realized that I’m not a girl, I’m a warrior.

I realized that I don’t need to be pushed around, that I have no interest in being pushed around and that I deserve everything that I want. I’m learning that I’m worth loving. That i’m worth fighting for. And I want to help others, especially those going through the healthcare system, believe the same.”

111213141516

17

All images are copyright of Katherine Elyse Photography. Images are owned by Katherine Elyse Cohen of Katherine Elyse Photography. For image use requests, please email katherineelysephotography@gmail.com

Sarah, Ryan, & Baby Jackson

A little over a year ago I was sitting in my apartment crying with absolute joy as Sarah and Ryan sent me photo after photos of their perfect little rainbow baby Jackson. He was such a long time coming and instantly SO loved. I’ve never seen a happier couple than them on that day.

This summer, our little cuddle bunny celebrates turning one year old. No one-year birthday would be complete without ALL the Disney toys, tons of family snuggles, and (of course) a whole cake for the king himself.

We all just love you to bits Jackson! Thank you for the hugs and snuggs during our session and for making your mama and daddy’s life so very complete. You were worth the wait. 

001200040024002800330038004600480052007600860094010001130129

Oh, They Call it that Good Old Sugarloaf Station!

I’ve been going to Sugarloaf since 2001, making this my 18th year there. I started as a camper, graduated up to a counselor, and somehow weaseled my way into an amazing staff position with a crew of boundlessly talented individuals. Sugarloaf is better than Christmas. It’s a haven of love, art, and creativity that comes every summer to sweep me off my feet and remind me who I want to be. It’s essentially New Years Eve/Golden Birthday/Right of Passage all rolled into one amazing experience. We teach some truly fantastic kids about everything from theatre arts to photography to textiles and watch as they grow and shine over the course of our week together. It may sound a bit short, it may be dusty and dirty, it may not even sound like much of an experience from the perspective of the outside world, but to all of us it’s just like coming home.

If you’re inspired or curious about camp, feel free to visit our Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp homepage to learn all about what we do. If you happen to have a couple bucks free, you can be a part of camp directly by donating to the Sugarloaf Station Foundation (the non-profit that funds the camp) and/or joining us at the Sugarloaf Station Foundation’s 16th Annual Fundraiser in September so we can raise money for these awesome kids to continue to experience this magical creative week in the woods! 

KEH_0028KEH_0029KEH_0031KEH_0037KEH_0049KEH_0053KEH_0101KEH_0531KEH_0554KEH_0579KEH_0609KEH_0644KEH_0654KEH_0751KEH_0788KEH_0805KEH_0826KEH_0843KEH_0858KEH_0876KEH_0930KEH_0931KEH_0952KEH_0957KEH_0962KEH_0999

Laurel and Mike: Out on the Town Engagement Session

 For Laurel and Mike’s unique engagement session, we decided to mix Chinese tradition and modern SF culture to create some epic shots that celebrate San Fran city culture along side Laurel’s Chinese heritage. These bought me empanadas, taught me Chinese, and flashed they style all over SF with reckless abandon. (Basically my photoshoot dream!) We went from the San Francisco Ferry Building to Chinatown to Russian Hill and back down again. I could do celebratory multicultural shoots like this every day!

0003000700160020002700300035003600440048005100540070007200770082009100990109

Karen: A SURVIVOR STORY

0035

Sometimes life throws us curveballs we struggle to understand. Karen was diagnosed with cancer during her pregnancy with her son.  This was her third and final baby and she was shocked to find out she would have to give up breastfeeding early and instead begin chemo. She underwent treatment after soon he was born and, thankfully, has made a miraculous full recovery. She’s currently in remission and soaking up all the time she can with her wonderful family before heading back to teaching in the Fall. 

This session was a Give Back Session for the Magic Hour Foundation.

0001000400070014001900260030004400520057006500700074007600850088000700140019002600300035004400520057006500700074007600850088

Sister Sister: Double Baby Trouble!

One day this past Spring I was working on some editing when my friend Julia texted me to tell me she was EXTRA excited because her friend Sarah had just told her she was pregnant. And even more exciting and flabbergasting? Sarah’s twin sister Julia had just told her that she was, in fact, pregnant as well. No planning. No attempt at synchrony. Just good old fashioned co-twin-cidence! 😉

I was ecstatic for them both! My fiancé had known these two girls for a long while and over the years we had become friends as well. I was elated when they reached out to set up a maternity session with me! I made sure to schedule their sessions at overlapping times so we could get some pics of both mama’s to be in one setting. As you can imagine, the session did NOT disappoint!

JULIA AND NEIL

First up were Julia and Neil. They got hitched a little less than a year ago and jumped right into building their sweet family. These two bond over beer (non-alcoholic right now) and punk music and there really is no shortage of love and fun between them!

j0050

j0040

SARAH AND DUSTIN

Sarah and Dustin have been together for over 10 years (married for 2) and are adorably and madly in love. We talked dogs, expectant parenthood, and a whole lot of nerd stuff while we walked around the park before and during the golden hour for our photos!

s0046

s0055

s0062 2

SISTERS

Of course, seeing as their due dates are so close (only two days apart, actually) I couldn’t resist getting some shots of these two inseparable twin sisters together! Even though they won’t QUITE be twins, I have a feelings these two boys are going to be thick as thieves. 🙂

js0073js0083js0090js0093

Huge hugs to both these families, I can’t wait to meet these boys! ❤

August: Happy National Family Month!

August is National Family Month (who knew??) and I’m looking to celebrate all the wonderful families I’ve worked with in the past and will work with in the future! This month, I’m running a fun promotion to entice some new families to join the KEP family! If you book your family photoshoot during the month of August, I’ll throw in two free 8×10 prints as a special gift for you guys! And who doesn’t love free stuff??

**Booking must be made in August but shoots can be scheduled anytime from September-December!**

Family Month

I know it sounds shockingly early, but it’s never too early to start planning holiday photos and get them done when the weather is great. This is the perfect opportunity for you to get them finished and have them ready before holiday crunch time hits! And guess what? Because you’re so wonderful and you read my blog, you’re going to get an EXTRA 10% OFF when you mention the blog! HOW AWESOME IS THAT?

10% Off

Make sure to tune into my Facebook all month to see some of my favorite family photos from the past year! If you’re interested in booking, email me at katherineelysephotography@gmail.com or call me at 916-812-5475 to book your session today!