As youth arts programs deploy across the country every year, I have had the privilege of supporting a group of youth voices that are not often at the forefront because of their circumstances, but are at the cross section between arts, science, and health: teens living with cancer. This year, for the first time (not an exaggeration, I don’t believe there are other creative youth development programs that do this), The Pablove Foundation has developed a program—a platform for students living with cancer—to use photography to tell their story and curate a group exhibition and gallery show together. The students learned advanced photography techniques and arts healing, developed a sense of visual literacy, did peer critiques, and mostly hung out and formed community with hope that others will learn through their art and what they have to say about childhood cancer.
The program, a departure from Pablove’s general approach to informal arts education, was truly a labor of love for those involved. Mostly, we are incredibly humbled by this community of youth storytellers and advocates. Here, student Andrea describes the program and what she and the advanced class crew were aiming to achieve through their exhibition:
For us cancer patients and survivors, cancer means a reality we live with after the initial diagnosis. The Pablove Foundation and the Shutterbugs program are parts of our healing treatment that have positive effects, such as photography skills, friends, and a unique community. Even though our ages and narratives range, we were able to see parallels and find common ground in our journeys through the time we spent together in our Saturday classes. We began exploring our stories through photography.
The term “childhood cancer” will never amount to more for those who do not understand it. But you do not need to live through cancer to understand there is a need for more research funding. More funding can result in better treatments that provide us a fighting chance for survival—survival without the long-term side effects of treatment, without the fear of relapse, and without the worry of affording treatment and care.
Behind the Diagnosis not only informs and brings awareness, it also connects our individual narratives with those of others to form a community. Along the way most of us have learned not to let cancer make our healing journey full of bad, bitter, ugly, angry, and resentful memories. In our healing we find moments of joy, humor, curiosity, and creativity. We find our voice, our beauty, and comfort in our vulnerability to open ourselves up to you.
We hope you enjoy what we have to show you and understand the significance behind our work.
As the Pablove Shutterbugs students transform from artists to advocates, you can follow their work on social media. Explore their photos and stories by searching the “Picture a Cure” hashtag on Instagram and follow @PabloveFoundation as a new piece is revealed each week!