I went to school with Tina and her older brothers and kept in touch with her on Facebook throughout the years that followed. I had been following her husband Jamie’s journey with stage 4 cancer. He had been fighting for two and a half years and when I saw her post about Jamie being taken off of experimental medication since he wasn’t reacting well to it, I contacted her immediately and offered her a complimentary family photo session. We continued to message back and forth about Jamie’s condition and our conversations turned into documenting the rest of his journey. Tina and Jamie had both expressed a desire in having this part of their lives documented to share with other families going through the same situation. They also wanted to share with others who might not get to see what it is like during the end stages of cancer and hopefully help others understand what a devastating disease cancer is + how it affects the families of those battling cancer. And so the project was born.
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Tina kept in touch and updated me on Jamie’s condition. About three weeks before he passed away, he was admitted to the hospital for an infection and I went to document them during their stay. Jamie was napping while getting a blood transfusion when I arrived, and I sat and chatted quietly with Tina while we waited. I had never spoken to the spouse of someone with a terminal illness, and the way she spoke of Jamie was truly touching. She talked about their relationship when they started dating, how he was a wonderful father figure to her first daughter, how they had their first daughter together, and how he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer when she was six months pregnant with her third daughter. She had such a calm and peaceful demeanor about her and she spoke of how lucky he was to be able to have time to say goodbye since most people don’t get that opportunity.
Jamie woke, and Tina stood right up to tend to him. I quietly slipped to the side and began documenting them. I was amazed at how much she knew about medications, feeding tubes, and medical terminology. She tended to him just like the nurses did. Most of the time he was slipping in and out of sleep and didn’t know exactly where she was standing around his bed so he would reach out to her and say her name and she would reply “I’m right here” and her hand would slip right into his. They were constantly saying “I love you” and sneaking kisses. She never left his side, and it was almost as if she knew exactly what he needed before he even said it.
About three weeks later, Jamie and Tina were able to attend an adult prom at the high school Jamie went to. I stopped by her house to capture them getting ready and a few shots before they headed out. Tina trimmed Jamie’s beard, helped him get dressed, and then got herself ready, while taking care of his medications and feeding tube in between. The entire time, Jamie looked at Tina as if she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen. You could see the love written all over his face. He was so excited to have a night out with his wife. He went to the backyard for a few quick photos before they were on their way. Jamie thanked me for being there to photograph his journey, gave me a wave and a smile, and they were off.
Three days later, Jamie’s health was declining and Tina had messaged me in the middle of the night to let me know. I was unable to make it in time and Jamie passed away four hours later. Being able to document this journey for Jamie and Tina and their daughters is such an incredible honor. It’s not easy to let someone into your life to witness something so intimate and personal. Jamie and Tina told me that because their daughters were too young to really understand what was going on, they wanted them to have pictures showing how much they truly loved each other and that their Dad fought with everything he had.
They had met so many other families that had helped them through all of the tough times and they wanted to be able to share their journey with other families to help them know that they aren’t alone. Since their story has been shared, so many people have reached out, saying thank you for sharing and that they could relate the images because they were going through a similar situation. I have so much respect and admiration for Jamie and Tina and their willingness to be so open with their story. They are the exact definition of “in sickness and in health”.
Guest post writing and images are from photographer, Samantha Overway
About Samantha Overway: I live in Holland, Michigan with my husband, two daughters, and two dogs. Documentary photography is my heart & soul and I love finding the beauty in everyday life. I love camping, movies and firmly believe in that breakfast is acceptable at any time of the day. I am a Canon girl through and through, and my camera usually never leaves my side. I also enjoy shooting film and collecting old film cameras. Website // Instagram // Facebook