Young Adults Share Their Cancer Journeys Through Photos

When Jenn Jackson, a trained physician, was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma in 2011 and found out she could no longer practice medicine, the news was devastating.

“Getting this cancer diagnosis changed the whole trajectory of my life,” says Jackson, who was diagnosed at 35, after completing 10 years of medical training. But, craving a greater sense of purpose, Jackson soon found a new career: photography.

“Now that I have cancer, I pay more attention to things that I see, and I wanted to share that beauty with other people,” she says. Jackson is now sharing that perspective through the YAP: Focus photography project, an initiative led by the Young Adult Program (YAP) at Dana-Farber.

"Nature's Scars" by Jenn Jackson
“Nature’s Scars” by Jenn Jackson

Since February, in collaboration with Jackson and with support of the Timothy P. Roberts “Reeling in a Dream” Endowed Fund, YAP has invited young adult cancer patients, ages 18 to 39, from Dana-Farber and beyond, to share photos of life through their eyes in an online gallery. Nearly 100 photos have been added, many from smartphones, in rotating themes such as joy, hope, and healing. On June 24, 30 of these photos, including several by Jackson, were on display at Dana-Farber’s Yawkey Center for Cancer Care, accompanied by many of the patient-photographers and more than 75 family members, friends, and caregivers.

"Perspective" by Jenn Jackson
“Perspective” by Jenn Jackson

“It’s been a really powerful format for people to share and view each other’s experiences,” says Jackson, who also led a photography workshop at YAP’s Young Adult Cancer Conference in March. “As young adults, we’re used to looking at Facebook and Instagram and telling the story of our lives in photos. The gallery is more in line with how young people communicate now.”

“I’m a very creative person, but I don’t draw or paint; photography is one thing I felt I could really do to show some of my perspective,” says Mary Kilcoyne, a 23-year-old being treated for stage III Hodgkin lymphoma who had two photos featured in the gallery. “If I’m having a bad day, I’ll go take a picture of something beautiful to help me realize that my bad day isn’t the only thing that’s happening.”

"Chemobrain" by Mary Kilcoyne
“Chemobrain” by Mary Kilcoyne

One of Mary’s photos, “Chemobrain,” features out-of-focus leaves fallen on grass and helped her express the fog that followed her first several chemotherapy treatments. “That’s what it feels like,” she says. “You’re completely out of focus. The world was still the same, everyone was still there, but something was different.”

If you’re a young adult with cancer who wants to participate in YAP: Focus, follow @DanaFarberYAP on Twitter for ongoing themes and add photos directly to the online gallery, or post them on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #YAPfocusView more photos from the June 24 event in the slideshow below. 

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