Through a lens brightly
Love of photography lets determined novice focus on capturing memorable moments rather than terminal illness
by Connie Midey - Mar. 20, 2009 03:28 PM
The Arizona Republic
If photos alone could tell her story, the first might show Jennifer Marlowe at age 2, newly diagnosed with a rare disease that causes recurrent tumors on the vocal cords and in other areas of the respiratory tract.
Next would come the Phoenix girl at 4, tracheotomy tube in place to help her breathe as the disease and its treatment take their toll.
Then we'd see a determined Jennifer at 10, teaching herself to swim with one arm, leaving a hand free to cover the opening in her throat to keep water from rushing into her lungs and drowning her.
And again at 16, her breathing tube removed after 12 years and looking eager for a respite from medical concerns.
But at 18, a snapshot would show her - golden-brown hair brushing past her shoulders - looking resigned after a diagnosis of advanced lung cancer. This is a Jennifer familiar with the doctors appointments, hospital visits and treatments to follow.
Today, the 19-year-old knots a scarf over a head made bald by chemotherapy and adds images she has shot to the photo album of her life: her parents sharing an anniversary kiss; her quick-to-joke brothers; her three-legged dog, Trinity.
These are the ones she chooses to tell her story.
"I like capturing people's emotions and expressions," Marlowe said, "and knowing they'll have a picture for that memory."
Her voice is whispery, the result of almost a lifetime of medical conditions and treatments.
Because Marlowe is too old to have a wish granted by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, other good fairies stepped in last month to fulfill her dream of becoming a photographer.
Staff members at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, where Marlowe is treated, sparked the effort.
"She knows her life is not going to be as long as most of us will live, and she started talking with us about what she'd like to accomplish," said Kristen Bayne, coordinator of the hospital's Pediatric CARES Program (the acronym is a reference to coordination, advocacy, resources, empowerment and support).
Step 1 was to send out e-mail requests for a camera - used would be fine - because Jennifer didn't want added expenses for her parents, Sharon and Jeff, or her two older brothers, Zak and Tim.
The response to the hospital's inquiries surprised everyone: The donation of a new Canon camera was just the beginning.
Photographer Sandy Puc', co-founder of the Littleton, Colo.-based Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Foundation, flew Marlowe to Denver with her mother for studio and on-location photography lessons. The foundation specializes in remembrance photography, and Puc' also has her own studio.
Plans grew more ambitious when the photographer learned that Jennifer's maternal grandmother, who lives in Denver, was fighting late-stage breast cancer.
In four jam-packed days, Puc' took family portraits and put a camera in Jennifer's hands, teaching the novice about lighting, shutter speeds and other basics. There were makeovers and visits to an optical center for mother and daughter; a dental appointment for Sharon; and a limo ride to the airport when it was all over. Everything was donated.
"The story touched me," Puc' said. "I have a daughter who's going on 17, and I've been very blessed that her health is good. I wanted to make sure Jennifer got the education she wanted. And I wanted to create a beautiful image of the three family members, so Sharon would have a keepsake."
Jennifer's grandmother since has died.
Puc', who has pursued her photography passion for 22 of her 39 years, found a kindred soul in Jennifer but knew the teen's time was short. So Puc' invited her protege to join her later this month for on-location shooting experience during a Canon-sponsored traveling photography seminar.
At home recently, Jennifer took a break from her studies - she intends to graduate from Cortez High School in May - to scan images from Colorado and others taken since.
After the sessions with Puc', Jennifer and her father met with photographer Kazu Okutomi of Phoenix, a cancer survivor, for a photo shoot at Pioneer Living History Village. Foto Forum camera store donated equipment, and a Valley camera club offered more lessons to further her dream.
In one shot Jennifer took in Colorado, tears glisten on her mother's face. They flowed often during the trip, with Sharon alternately overjoyed by her daughter's opportunity and distressed by her mother's and Jennifer's health battles.
"I'm always the one comforting my mother," Jennifer said, and smiled.
A realist, she has talked with her parents about her funeral and is determined to store up as many experiences as possible - and record them with her camera.
With bones made fragile by cancer and medical treatments, Jennifer can't dance like she used to, and her walks through the mall are shorter. But she's able to relish TV time with Dad, scrutinizing every Civil War and World War II program they can find. History is her favorite subject.
Still, she especially looks forward to photography classes at Glendale Community College after her high-school graduation.
"When I take pictures," Jennifer said, "I feel like everything around me disappears."
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