How Photography Helped Me Stay Positive Through Cancer Treatment

How Photography Helped Me Stay Positive Through Cancer Treatment

I'm not the first photographer that ended up going through the fun life challenge of combating cancer, and I sadly won't be the last. I did, however, find that my passion for photography and sharing with others helped me through some incredibly tough times.

For those of you who like to skip through articles like Instagram posts, I'll save you some time and give you the one-liner conclusion up front. The grand moral to the story is simply this: don't give up on your passions, even in the most difficult circumstances, because they might just be what helps you make it through it all.

For everyone else, hopefully what I'll be sharing with you will be something that will resonate on some level. I'm going to be very candid with you simply because I think topics like cancer and other deadly diseases tend to be talked about in quieter tones, and that's simply not how I operate. Just because the underlying message here revolves around surviving cancer doesn't meant to exclude the gravity of other serious and life-threatening diseases. Cancer simply happens to be part of my story, but I hope that anyone else fighting other medical conditions, disabilities, and other life challenges will be able to connect and relate. I can tell you this quite honestly: cancer fucking sucks, no matter how old you are or what stage the cancer is, or what the treatment plan ends up being. It's a miserable journey, but this same journey also has some beautiful moments and opportunities.

When you are first given the dreaded "C" word as a diagnosis, the reality that you have been living in takes a dramatic left turn, and very quickly, your whole life changes in a matter of weeks. It's depressing as hell, it's scary, but it's unavoidable. One of my first epiphanies, if you could call it that, was simply the realization that life was going to suck for a while but that didn't have to determine the rest of my life experiences. I mean, treatment is rough, but there's still a lot that goes on with friends, family members, coworkers, and clients that has nothing to do with the medical side of things. I realized very quickly that I didn't want the difficulties of medical treatments to determine the mood and and outcome of any interactions with the aforementioned individuals. Cancer sucks, but the rest of life can be pretty good, even during treatment, and a lot of that comes down to making the choice to make the most of what time you have.

From back when I first shaved my head because of chemo. It's likely the first and last time I'll ever have an actual mohawk. It lasted a full 90 seconds, long enough for the picture.

For me, this ended up taking the form of treating my own cancer journey almost like a big joke. There are people that won't appreciate a sarcastic, even morbid sense of humor. But I was literally faced with the possibility of an untimely end due to a disease that came about very unexpectedly. Instead of worrying about that possibility, I much preferred to have as much fun with each day as I could and simply forget about what "could" happen. Worrying about something that is out of our control simply creates undue stress for us and those close to us; it really is pointless.

The pictures used in this article were taken as part of a photo shoot I conducted for myself at the time when my hair really started falling out fast. Instead of waiting for my hair to thin to the point where I looked like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, I opted to simply shave it and jump straight into the baldheaded club. My brother helped me out with the camera work and the hair clippers, and we turned what could have been a really depressing moment into a fairly hilarious and completely ridiculous experience. This is quite literally one of the moments where being a photographer allowed me to have some fun with an experience that tends to be much more depressing period of time for other cancer patients. In fact, I would strongly encourage anyone else who finds themselves with a similar diagnosis to book a photo shoot and do the exact same thing; have some fun with it.

Other than completely ridiculous self portraits and head-shaving sessions, the main point where photography helped me stay sane throughout my treatments revolves specifically around my passion for landscape photography. Chemotherapy has a way of making cancer patients lose a lot of stamina and energy, but I simply couldn't bear the thought of spending most of my time sitting around, not getting outside and out in my beloved mountains. No, I didn't go on any crazy hikes while going through therapy, but I did make a point of getting outside as much as I could and to explore as many places as I could within reason.

From one of my many random drives up into the mountains during the middle of my treatment period.

For me, the mountains are the place I turn to when I need some good peace and emotional rejuvenation. Others go to church, some turn to various forms of entertainment, but nothing helps me quite like getting outside and breathing fresh air in a beautiful location. Sometimes, it took a conscious effort and a commitment to get outside, which wasn't always easy, but I always came back feeling refreshed and strangely energized even though I would be simultaneously exhausted. Taking a camera along was more beneficial than I had originally realized. Having something else to focus on, something that I enjoyed, and something that literally put my mind to work was extremely therapeutic. I don't think any of the pictures I took are anything extraordinary. I'm happy with the images I captured, but more because of the emotional therapy rather than image quality or any possible prospects for monetization of the shots.

You don't have to be going through anything as dramatic as cancer treatment to end up in a place where it would seem easier to put the camera down rather than to put it to more use. Life has a way of throwing us all frustrating curve balls, but at this point, I am convinced that it is important to keep close the things that truly bring us joy. For me, and likely most of you who spend any time here on Fstoppers, photography is a pretty big part of our lives. When the going gets tough, just remember what truly makes you happy, and don't let things keep you from enjoying it any longer than is necessary.

Even though I have finished chemotherapy, treatment still continues in the form of radiation and continual scans. It's simply part of my new lifestyle now. I can tell you this: cancer ends up having this way of bring people closer, in a simultaneously depressing and positive manner. Some of the most incredible people I've ever met are individuals that I have encountered as a direct result of going through cancer treatments. For anyone that reads this and finds themselves in a similar situation, I encourage you to reach out either to me or other cancer patients/survivors. It's helpful to know that you're not alone and that there is a whole network of people out here who can empathize with you better than you would expect. No matter what it is, don't let life stop you from being yourself.

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Deleted Account's picture

Well said. My camera has been a key coping tool in PTSD management.

I love the fun you had with those portraits. Nice mohawk. :)

Rex Jones's picture

So glad I'm not the only one that puts the camera to such use. :)

Thank you!! I definitely had fun with the clippers! ;)

Deleted Account's picture

I make a shampoo mohawk in the shower every now and then. Haha.

Rex Jones's picture

Haha, well now you’ve got to share pictures, maybe not while in the shower, but definitely of the mohawk!

Deleted Account's picture

Haaaaa... er... no. LOL
Consolation photo... we call this "The Shroud of Kevin." Very photogenic boy dog.

Lorin Duckman's picture

So, every time I go to see my cancer doc, I shoot his picture. He said he was putting together an album. I responded, "the longer you keep me alive, the more images you will have." He is a real, caring, sweetheart and he helps me live."

Deleted Account's picture

I love the incintive. His compassion comes through in your shot. :)

Rex Jones's picture

I freaking love this, Lorin. He reminds me of my own doc, super kind and caring. You'll have to share the album with us if you've got it up somewhere!

Daniel Medley's picture

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. You're right, cancer fucking sucks.

Here's to your continued and full recovery.

Rex Jones's picture

Thank you, Daniel!!

Dana Goldstein's picture

Thank you for sharing your journey - wishing you the BEST of health and a terrific new year!

Rex Jones's picture

Thank you so much, Dana!!! All the love!

Deleted Account's picture

Thank you for sharing your is great to see your passion for photography helped you through this part of your life's journey. Glad to hear chemo is over and wishing you a strong recovery. Keep making images!

Rex Jones's picture

Thank you so much!! It's been a crazy year, but a good one in ways I didn't expect. :)

Stephen Kampff's picture

I've personally never seen an approach to cancer like this – you've been utterly inspiring man. Having fun with treatment was eye opening and I couldn't respect you more for it.

Iain Stanley's picture

Way to go Rex. I’ve enjoyed seeing your photos and your approach. If you can’t laugh there ain’t much left is there?

Rex Jones's picture

Thank you!! That's how I see it, cancer is depressing enough, might as well try to have fun with it!

Andy Day's picture

Such an inspiration, Rex! Thanks for sharing. 😊

Rex Jones's picture

Thank you!! It's awesome to have support from amazing people like you!

Lorin Duckman's picture

So, I take a couple of cancer pills every day. The pharmacy calls every month to see if I am alive. I make the copay in January. The pills are $13,000 a month. I have insurance, but still. So I make a photo and send it to the pharmacy. They have them on the wall. Be as strong as you can, REX.

Rex Jones's picture

Wow, that monthly price is insane!! I'm doing my best. :) You take care of yourself too!!