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New Mom, New Cancer

There are a lot of things in this life that I can’t imagine.  I have a hard time grasping what it is like to have or love a child, I am not a parent.  I also can’t realistically touch the fear of having a disease like cancer, I have been mostly healthy my entire life.  But because my job puts me right in the midst of people living through the extremes in life I often get a vicarious understanding of parts of the world that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience.  Working on stories that explore the rich experience of human life is the most rewarding part of my job, though in certain cases it is hard to witness.

The miracle of parenthood and the terror of disease are examples I mentioned because of one such story I worked on recently for CNN about mother and daughter, Kezia and Saoirse Fitzgerald, who are both fighting unrelated forms of cancer, at the same time.   It is a difficult story and one which has only gotten progressively more difficult for the family since I photographed them.  For what they are going through, the Fitzgeralds seemed remarkably graceful, brave and hopeful.  But it was impossible for them to hide the worry and lack of sleep on their faces.

Here is a recent excerpt from Kezia’s “New Mom…New Cancer” blog:  Saoirse had a CT today. The results are not good. She has new lesions on her skull and her large tumor at the back of her head has grown. I am not sure where things go from here. We are still going to NY next week for further tests. We should know more Monday. Today is the first day I thought about the reality that she might die. The first day I let myself see the reality of her disease. Today I feel helpless, hopeless, and humbled. Today I have no answers – just questions, what ifs and uncertainty. Today I am weak, but she is strong – she makes me keep going. All I need is her smile.

You can keep up with the story and even donate to help the family from Kezia’s blog.

Kezia Fitzgerald tries to feed her 14-month-old daughter Saoirse while undergoing chemotherapy treatments at Children's Hospital Boston, August 25, 2011. Because both Kezia and Saoirse are undergoing chemotherapy for their two unrelated forms of cancer, Kezia says the benefit is that she knows what it feels like for Saoirse. "Because she can't talk, it is easier to be like 'okay this is what she's feeling like today'" Kezia explained. Often patients undergoing chemotherapy have a hard time eating.

14-month-old Saoirse Fitzgerald carries around a recent drawing done while undergoing chemotherapy treatment at Children's Hospital Boston.

Both Kezia Fitzgerald and her 14-month-old daughter Saoirse have catheters implanted under their skin running to their jugular veins which enables the hospital staff to easily administer fluids, chemotherapy treatments and draw blood. Kezia (right) has a Port-a-Cath and Saoirse has a central line.

14-month-old Saoirse Fitzgerald gets attention from doctors as she walks the halls of Children's Hospital Boston, with her mom Kezia in-tow, August 25, 2011. Kezia is wearing a home hydration system which will allow the family to go home rather than depend on the hospital to administer fluids following Saoirse's chemotherapy treatments.

Kezia Fitzgerald holds her fussy 14-month-old daughter Saoirse as a nurse works to finish her chemotherapy treatment at Children's Hospital Boston.

Mike Fitzgerald tries to comfort his fussy 14-month-old daughter Saoirse as his wife Kezia talks to the attending physician Dr. Katherine Janeway.

Mike Fitzgerald stands by while his wife Kezia feeds their daughter Saoirse at Children's Hospital Boston, August 25, 2011. Both Kezia and Saoirse are undergoing treatment for their two unrelated forms of cancer. Faced with two family members getting cancer at the same time, Mike Fitzgerald said there isn't much you can do to make sense of it. "It is so overwhelming you just kind of ignore it," Mike said. "It's not easy."

Saoirse Fitzgerald leans on her mom Kezia following chemotherapy treatments.

Children's Hospital Chaplain Jessica Bratt gets a "high five" from 14-month-old Saoirse Fitzgerald before Saoirse left the hospital following chemotherapy treatments. "She's feeling pretty bad." Fitzgerald said. "Because we try to keep her brain occupied, I think it helps her feel better."

Mike Fitzgerald and his daughter Saoirse share a kiss while drawing at Children's Hospital Boston, August 25, 2011. "She inspires us every day," Mike said.

Saoirse Fitzgerald lays on a pillow next to her mom Kezia following chemotherapy treatments