Posted on Leave a comment

An Emptiness

Ashley Richer Photography
Daniel Gagnon Photo

The words don’t come easy, but the tears do. Staring at these photos, staring at an empty dress that once hugged you. When I hugged you. The tears come now, when I look at the photos side by side, one dress on you, one dress empty. The same emptiness I felt as the camera flashed for these photos. When I held your dress, and my heart felt as empty as it was without you beside me.

But this is childhood cancer. This is my statement to the world; Here I hold a collection of tulle where you once stood. Here is the photo form of what was stolen from me- from all of us, from you- your life. Childhood cancer robs the average child of 71 years of life, it robbed you of memories and experiences; of a high school prom and a first kiss, of a college graduation and a wedding, of a life outside of cancer, of a childhood.

Ashley Richer Photography
Daniel Gagnon Photo

This is childhood cancer. I hold your dress in the Miss Rhode Island dressing room because I can’t hold you. Because you can’t walk beside me on stage like you once did. You weren’t supposed to, you were in a wheelchair, but you did. Because you were strong, and that is what keeps us strong. The stitching on the fabric of this dress like the way you keep all of our hearts together- stitched together with memories of you.

Ashley Richer Photography

Senior prom I returned back from a half year studying abroad in Germany. I didn’t want a date, I wanted you to come with me, but you were too young. I felt it deep in my heart the need for you to experience prom- the internal knowing I had, but I had no idea that you wouldn’t experience your own prom.

This is childhood cancer. An empty dress, an empty seat at the table, parents with empty hearts. Friends collecting glimpses of you in whatever we can. Holding onto the past like we try to hold ourselves together every day.

If you feel something from these photos – sadness, anger, fury – you should. These photos are a tangible representation of what we have lost. We have lost seeing the brightness of Ella’s smile every day. We have lost the opportunity to hold a back and forth conversation with her. We have lost seeing her grow up- as we lose 7 children a day in the US. This is childhood cancer.

But what have we gained?

Because of these children, because of Ella, we have gained the ability to have hope. Hope that one day, we will never lose a child to cancer. We have gained a community of driven friends, parents and families who strive to make a difference in this world in their child’s honor. We have gained a new perspective on life.

These photos are heartbreaking. They are meant to make you feel something. But despite the emptiness, I know there is great fullness as well. Fullness of a heart, a heart that got to know Ella and so many other kids that are on the Other Side now with her. A fullness that could only come from experiencing the light she brought us in her short 14 years. Fullness in knowing that we will be together again one day- and that we are always together, maybe not physically, but she is here. She is there when we are taking photos, she is there wiping your tears, she is there in your happy moments and in your sad moments.

Childhood cancer is not rare, and it is not fair. We know that she is there, but that is not enough. No family should have to lose their child to cancer. No friend should have to go to prom without their best friend. Feel what you feel from seeing these photos and reading these words and use that to fuel the fire to make a difference for children battling cancer. It’s not your child or your friend until it is, don’t let it be. The kids need us now- they need those who are unaffected to be affected by this. To make a difference for them.

Ashley Richer Photography
Posted on Leave a comment

Turning Pain into Purpose

It was a sunny day when I noticed Ella for the first time; long blonde hair with a bow in it, blissfully unaware of the struggles of the real world, as any 5 year old should be. I don’t quite remember the weather, 6 years later, when I ran into her and her dad in a local store. I do remember, however, where that long blonde hair once was, now sat a hat, covering her bald head. She had been newly diagnosed with leukemia at the age of eleven.

It was also a bright, sunny day the day I found out that Ella went to heaven, 9 years following our initial encounter. I remember feeling like the weather was mocking me. The brightness and birds chirping mocking my irreparable pain, the physical feeling of a broken heart. Now, writing this, I like to think the sun shined because Ella shined, the brightness extending her light from heaven back to us.

“Now, writing this, I like to think the sun shined because Ella shined, the brightness extending her light from heaven back to us.”

Ironically, months before Ella passed I commented during a conversation that I would never be able to live if something happened to Ella. But the feeling I had following losing Ella, despite the sickening ache that pushed me down daily, was the undeniable feeling that I needed to live on, because she wanted to live on.

An extravagant, flourishing nonprofit organization was not quite what I had in mind during this time of deep grief and question in my life. I developed several small, ongoing illnesses following Ella’s passing, a result of my inability to cope, and spent most of my days hiding in my one person beach house, or in therapy. This was, until, one day a worldwide pandemic began, and I was forced unexpectedly into living at home again. By now it was March 2020, and I was attempting to find my footing back in the world of pediatric cancer awareness. I had been an advocate since the age of 12, and my devotion was now stronger than ever to this cause.

It began with a plea from a nonprofit I had long admired (no longer in existence) called the Team Lilly Foundation. They were looking for handmade masks to donate to children battling cancer in hospitals around the country. In true “Ali” fashion, just as I had done 8 years prior, I broke out my sewing machine once again to make a difference in the lives of children battling cancer.

One mask turned into two, and two days turned into one hundred masks shipped off to the Team Lilly Foundation. When I made a post on Facebook, the messages of wanting to purchase masks came flooding in. What started as a hobby in my bedroom, soon turned into moving my sewing table in front of the TV in our living room so I could sew all day and all night, with an assembly line of my family typing elastics, hundreds of labels printing, and news and media outlets adopting “Miracle Masks,” 3 months and nearly 3,000 masks later.

The $10,000 in profits– all donated to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Talia’s Legacy Children’s Cancer Foundation, and various other pediatric cancer organizations. My hands kept moving, and the orders kept coming. And with every order, my passion to do something “more” grew.

“My hands kept moving, and the orders kept coming. And with every order, my passion to do something “more” grew.”

This was around the time Ella’s mom mentioned to me Ella’s dream, for every child battling cancer to receive a bald doll, after she had written a letter to American Girl requesting they make one. So Miracle Masks turned into real life miracles in the form of little girls receiving bald dolls, and with them, a new confidence and courage.

In June 2020, Glimmer of Hope Foundation was born. The pain of losing Ella has never gone away. I no longer hide in my room (though occasionally you might lose me behind stacks of dolls) but instead, put on a brave face to share Ella’s, and my own story, in hopes that it will inspire others to find purpose in their own pain. Hope and Heartbreak live very close together, in fact, they are neighbors. Don’t let the fear of your own pain stop you from finding the purpose in it.

“Hope and Heartbreak live very close together, in fact, they are neighbors. Don’t let the fear of your own pain stop you from finding the purpose in it.”

Posted on 1 Comment

“Best Day Ever” in Phoenix, Arizona

Seven months of planning turned into ten sparkling dresses and ten precious smiles at Wrigley Mansion on Sunday, February 6th, 2022. The endeavor of the “Best Day Ever” Photoshoot began on a May day in Newport, Rhode Island in collaboration with Ashley Richer Photography. Ashley came to me with the idea of creating a princess themed photoshoot for girls battling cancer in Rhode Island. After nearly a year of planning, this event came together beautifully on the lawn of Rough Point Mansion in Newport, RI.

From the release of our segment on “People TV” covering this magical day, I began planning our second endeavor in Phoenix, Arizona. Although Ashley couldn’t be with us for this special day, we so appreciate her letting us bring this magical dream collaboration we created to life in every state in the US. Photographers Jo & Alli of Jo and Alli Photography stepped up and went above and beyond to make all of the girls feel so special and beautiful, and captured magical memories that will last a lifetime for these families.

Wrigley Mansion served as our castle of the day– complete with a gorgeous pink bridal suite for the girls to get their hair and makeup done in, and even provided sparkling champagne and a charcuterie board for all to snack while they were pampered. Downstairs, on the back patio set the scene for a true princess experience.

Our hair and makeup artists all donated their time and truly made an effort to make every girl see their true beauty. For so many of them, similar to the photoshoot in Newport, it was their first time having their hair done since it had grown back. The smiles as each girl was shown her final look in the mirror were priceless! We extend a huge thank you to Christopher Bullock Beauty, Seventh Ave. Beauty and KB Glam by Lauren Cory for donating their time for this special day.

The Princess Charlotte Project provided each girl with their own princess dress, and Leanne Marie Crafts and the Princess Program Foundation provided each girl with a matching princess dress for their doll. The most special part of the day was when each girl was surprised with a bald doll (provided by Glimmer of Hope) during their individual photos. We thank these amazing non-profits as well as the amazing sponsors who sponsored these dolls for the photoshoot! The girls’ reactions were priceless!

Wrigley Mansion provided a beautiful setup, complete with flower arrangements, sandwiches, chips, drinks and more to make this day so special. The girls opened gift baskets and did crafts in between taking photos provided by Amanda Hope Rainbow Angels. We also extend a thank you to our volunteers including Miss Arizona’s and Miss Phoenix’s Outstanding Teen, along with the Valley of the Sun Active Club of Phoenix. Another thank you to Joel Cardella for providing us with a hotel to stay at during our time in AZ!

This day was filled with magic, love and lots of smiles. Our goal with this photoshoot is to collaborate with a childhood cancer nonprofit in each state to bring this to every state in the US. We’re already in the process of planning our next Best Day Ever.. let us know a state you’d like us to come to or a nonprofit you’d like to see us partner with in the comments!

As always, thank YOU for supporting Glimmer of Hope Foundation and Ella’s dream to make all children battling cancer feel confident, strong and courageous in their battles.