Every once in a while, you meet someone who just changes you. They change the way you look at life, the way you think about things, they can change your heart, your perspective, your goals in life. They just touch you to your core and sometimes they might not even realize it.
Meet Mrs Nancy Lamberger. Nancy is the grandmother to 2 girls I'm honored to have on my model team. She was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer back in the fall of 2018. She treated it and won that first battle. In the beginning of summer 2020, it came back and this time spread to other organs. Mrs Nancy decided to fight it with Chemo treatments and she put up a great fight. Her daughter Tami, and mother of my 2 reps, asked me to document the journey for her. I didn't realize at the time, just how hard this would be, all while being so thankful I was able to do this for her and how bittersweet it would become.
The first time I met Mrs Nancy, was May 2020, at her lake house just as she was starting her chemo treatments. I remember being immediately drawn to her. She was just beautiful. Not just her outward appearance. But she just glowed from the inside and just had so much love for life. She had the physical appearance of a healthy, happy, glowing woman in her 70's who was living her best life, loved her family, loved to laugh, and could even be a little cheeky with her humor. I learned she loves her lake house, she loves laying in her hammock reading books, she loves big hats, she loves her daughter Tami with every ounce of who she was, she adores her granddaughters and great niece, has an unbreakable bond and fun relationship with her sisters and brothers which she is the oldest of 9, and was completely and utterly, madly in love with her husband John, whom at the time they had been married for 3 short years.
We finished up that first session with Mrs Nancy and her sisters. That was SO MUCH FUN. Watching them interact with each other, talking about their fun and hilarious memories and learning the history behind their nicknames for each other touched my heart and I started tearing up and not even really knowing why. I just knew I was witnessing something intimate, special and a memory that eventually would be all they had left as a photograph. The profoundness of that knowledge weighed on me and I may or may not have shed a few tears editing that first session as that reality had just really started to hit and resonate on my heart. I left that session, not knowing when I was going to see Mrs Nancy again or where she would be in this journey, but I was already a huge fan of her. I loved her spirit, how she carried herself, her style, how even with this diagnosis, she still had this incredible glow to her, she still LOVED life.
The next time I got to see Mrs Nancy was for her 74th birthday. Tami messaged me saying that Mrs Nancy had made the decision she was done with chemo, and they as a family decided to call in Hospice, so she wanted 3 more sessions as the rest of Mrs Nancys brothers and sisters were all flying in from all over the US to visit her. So that's exactly what we did, and I remember thinking how I loved that she got to see another year, because she truly loves life, and she got to celebrate with her family who she loves so much. I could tell at this session, Mrs Nancy was getting tired, but she still had her glam style, that full of life glow to her, and still adored and was adored by her family.
This session is where I really started to become emotional and reality really began to sink in about WHAT my job here actually was and what I was really capturing. At one point, I was taking Tami's photo with her mom, and I asked them to look at each other, that's a fairly common prompt I do on most of my sessions with families. When Tami looked at her mom she broke down. My heart broke with her tears. Her mom just hugged her and told her to not cry. In that moment, it was like I could see Tami as a child, and the nurturing mother that I know Mrs Nancy had to have been. The tenderness in that moment brought tears to my eyes.
After this session, I decided to gift Tami and her family with a project. I enlisted the help of a local videographer, Kaylyn Collins of On Journey Media, who agreed to collaborate on this project with me. We wanted to learn more about Mrs Nancy, who she was as a person, not just a diagnosis or her as a cancer patient. Our idea was to interview Mrs Nancy, capture her smile, her laugh, her mannerisms when she spoke, how she lit up talking about her loved ones, her hand gestures as she spoke, her body movements. All the little things that made her unique. I lost all 4 of my grandparents in a span of the past 5 years. I NEVER had conversations about THEIR life with them. As a child, you don't ever think to ask your grandparents how THEY grew up, who was their first kiss, were they rebellious, funny stories, what were their dreams, what were their regrets etc, then as we become adults, we get so busy with our own lives, most of us definitely don't have those conversations etc or if we do, perhaps after years we forget some of those details. I would literally give anything to hear my grandmothers talk about their first crushes, life lessons they learned, advice they would give me for this stage in my life, to just SEE them being themselves, hearing their voices, their laughs. By capturing this for Tami and her family, it's something that she will be able to watch over and over any time she needs to hear her moms voice, laugh, or just see her after she is gone. I can't think of a better gift.
I was not prepared for the life story that I got from Mrs Nancy. The reason Mrs Nancy had such love for her life was because SHE LIVED. She LIVED HER LIFE TO THE FULLEST. She told us so much, but the thing that just wowed me, was when she told me at 68 years old, she completed the Walk of Santiago! This is a 500 mile walk through Spain! I was FLOORED because at 36 years old, that seems impossible to me and yet, this 68 year old woman was out living her best life, tracking through Spain on foot, staying in hostels with strangers who became friends that she still remains in contact with, and finding herself! I also learned she wore many hats, she was a building designer, an artist, a massage therapist, all while helping raise her siblings as well as her own children. THIS INTERVIEW is where this woman became my hero, and someone I looked up to and aspired to be like. This is where I KNEW and didn't just suspect Mrs Nancy of truly being someone SPECIAL.
This 3rd session was when Mrs Nancys energy and health was really beginning to decline. Tami told me this was the last session Mrs Nancy was going to be coming to Lufkin for photos. Even though she didnt feel good, she put on that brave face, put her hand on her hip and flashed us that glorious smile of hers for her photo op. The strength and grace she possessed was straight up magical and inspiring.
For our 4th scheduled session, it rained off and on all day. Tami called me to let me know her mom was not doing good and asked if we could shoot in front of Mrs Nancy's art studio in downtown Nacogdoches. That they had some umbrellas and hopefully she could have some fun with them. I was so excited to see Mrs Nancy's art I heard about when I interviewed her for the video.
Mrs Nancy LIGHTS UP when she talked about her art. I could tell that's one of her most precious passions, and so close to her heart. She told me during our interview, "Life is a blank canvas....throw all the paint you have on it." After hearing about her life, this phrase resonated with me. I know she threw all the paint she had on her canvas and came out with a masterpiece. She talked about her late son, Jay, whom she lost when he was in his early 20's. He was an artist like her.
Her art studio was homey and quaint and I LOVED getting to see her pieces. After Mrs Nancy was ready we got some more photos with her family....in the rain....with umbrellas, and she was like a little kid, splashing in the puddles. She still was enjoying her present, not worrying about the future, loving life and living it to the fullest, even if that meant playing in the rain with her family, right outside of her art studio and home. She is no doubt happiest no matter what or where she is, so long as she is surrounded by her family.
At the end of this session, Tami told me that she needed one last session. She told me most likely it would be with Mrs Nancy in her bed, she wanted to document this journey and that means even the hard and difficult times, not just the happy.
I will admit it. I cried while shooting this session. I felt awful for crying. But seeing this strong, beautiful, talented, amazing woman I've come to know, in her final days, laying in her bed, with her family around her, broke my heart. It made me realize just how short we are actually on this earth. How the days are long, but the years truly are short. How no doubt, had cancer not taken her body, Mrs Nancy would still be out there living her best life, doing all the things she wanted to do, heck maybe even walking 500 miles across Spain AGAIN. Who knows! She has truly lived an amazing, exciting, wonderful life, even through the hardships like loosing her son, siblings, parents, friends, she still loved life and still lived hers. Watching Tami care for her.....I couldn't help think about how Mrs Nancy nurtured and cared for Tami as a baby when Tami came into this world, and now Tami is caring, comforting and seeing to Mrs Nancys every need. I was getting a front row seat the seeing the circle of life. One day our parents are taking care of us and the next we are taking care of them. It was just special, heart touching, and a bittersweet, but completely beautiful thing to witness.
Tami told me that every night, she sleeps with her mom, and John comes in and kneels beside her bed, and says a prayer. Mrs Nancy has a wooden hand cross she holds while he does so. So we captured those moments. Then her granddaughters and her great niece (who is like a granddaughter to her) came in and snuggled up with her. Theyre relationship with their Nana is special no doubt. She had on a shirt that said "What happens at Nana's, stays at Nana's." I can only imagine the fun nights, life lessions, jokes and laughs that happened at Nana's house. The thought makes me smile. After the girls had their time, the rest of the family came in and surrounded her and everyone sang the old hymn "Amazing Grace" and the tears were flowing....which I guess I am the type of person where noone can cry alone in my presence because seeing this beautiful sad moment brought tears to my eyes......Like I said earlier, I felt awful for crying with them, but you can't spend 5 mintues in the presence of Mrs. Nancy, and not be touched by her....whether its something she says, or just her beautiful spirit and friendly smile.
After we were done, I knew this would most likely be the last time I got to see Mrs. Nancy. I went over to her and kissed her on her forehead like I did to my grandmother when I visited her right before she passed from cancer. I didn't mean to do that, It was almost an out of body experience for me! I didn't know what to do, I just knew this amazing human, touched my soul through this experience and I felt close to her somehow, I knew she wouldn't be here much longer and this was proobably my last time to see her....this woman who I know I will think of often even after she is gone even though I only knew her a very short time. I told her that she was such an inspiration to me and that I hoped to live half the life she has lived. That I wanted to be like her when I grew up. She smiled at me and said "Just trust". Those 2 phrases from Mrs Nancy will be the phrases I live my life by now. To just trust.....and to throw all my paint on this canvas that is my life. I will live my life to the fullest, learn anything and everything I can, and soak up all the time I can with those closest to me and not worry about tomorrow.
I've heard the saying, "your legacy is not leaving something FOR, it's leaving something IN people" and Mrs Nancy is no doubt leaving her legacy. I can honestly say I am blessed to have had this oppoturnity to capture and get to know this amazing woman even if only for a short time. I know even after she has left this world, I will find myself thinking about Mrs. Nancy. Tami, my prayers and thoughts are with you and your family. Thank you for this beautfiul gift.
All my love,