Rhonda and Mark West

category: Families

We all have certain God-given gifts and talents and I truly believe He intended us to use those not only to make our lives richer and more abundant, but to help others. If you’d known me growing up, you would never have described me as an “artsy” person–my sister Julie was the artist in the family. She actually went to art school for a couple of years and has an amazing talent for drawing, sketching, and painting that I can’t even comprehend! So, I guess it’s kind of ironic that I am the one working in more of an art related field. I found my artistic vision through the lens of the camera and that experience awakened in me talents I didn’t know I had.

Over the past couple of years, both Janice and I have prayed for God to show us ways we can use our talents and this business for His greater glory, and lo and behold, God keeps giving us those opportunities. Many of you know I did a fund raiser in December to help off-set medical costs for the Nevil family (see “Praying for the Nevils” on Facebook to learn more about their story). I regularly support silent auctions and volunteer at charitable events as well. So when I was approached to help the West family, it was a no-brainer.

Several weeks ago, I heard about Rhonda through my friend and also client February. When February learned of Rhonda’s fight with cancer and that she had never had family portraits, she immediately contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to help. How could I say no? Several dear friends of mine have battled or are battling cancer and I even lost my father-in-law to Hodgkins, so this cause is close to my heart. I got in touch with Rhonda’s sister, Ruthanne, and we worked out the details. Here is Rhonda’s story:

In the Fall of 2012, Rhonda was struggling with strange gastrointestinal symptoms like severe indigestion, nausea and abdominal pain. The doctor ruled out gallstones but the symptoms continued…and turned into SEVERE itching all over her body and jaundice. That’s when the doctor got really concerned.

A gastroenterologist did a procedure where, with Rhonda under anesthesia, he put a tube down her throat to “flush out” her gallbladder. While in there, he noticed the opening to her bile duct was surprisingly small so he took a brush and collected cells for biopsy and placed a stent in her bile duct to relieve her symptoms. He told her she could expect her symptoms to be gone the next day and he would call her with the results of the biopsy, which he was confident would not be cancer.

Three days later, he called her into his office and told her that a tiny tumor was responsible for the small opening to her bile duct. He referred her to a surgeon and told her he was confident that surgery would take care of it. Rhonda’s family believed, based on what the doctors had said, that once she recovered from surgery the nightmare would all be over.

Two days after Christmas the pathology report came back. Stage 2b pancreatic cancer. That was a devastating day for pretty much everyone except Rhonda. When she got the news she was saying things like, “Lets get this straight; I am a cancer SURVIVOR.” And, “I’m gonna get such a sexy wig.” The surgery was successful in terms of removing the cancer and getting clean margins, but two lymph nodes had been compromised; hence the need for chemotherapy.

I spoke with Rhonda on the phone prior to our photo session. I didn’t know what to expect and was surprised by her upbeat attitude. She has a very strong faith, and says that’s what accounts for her inner strength through all the rough times. The session itself was special. Rhonda and Mark have four beautiful children, including three very active young boys! As you can see in these images, Rhonda is quite a beauty as well and looks amazing considering all she has been through. I applaud her and her family for taking the time and energy to capture these precious images of their family that I know will be cherished for years to come. I ask you, my readers, to keep them in your prayers and support them if you can (see “Friends of Rhonda West” on Facebook). I will keep you updated as well. Thank you, Rhonda and Mark, for letting me play such an important role in your lives at this moment. I hope you love these photos.




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