My photo blog… visual thoughts around me.

“Can Cancer Crush Your Creative Spirit?”



What does a year bring to one who loves family, devotes countless hours to work and tries to express themselves through photography. Well for me it was not only life changing but mind challenging. It started last year and like a clock that stares back at you, it announces milestones in dangling updates, as each test is scheduled, viewed and double checked for errors. There seemed no errors were to be found. Like the constricting body of a snake, each squeeze signified a darker end. PSA levels rose until, April when they elevated way above the norm. The invasive, but essential, biopsy was scheduled and once again the mind paralyzing wait for that meeting I would both dread and embrace at the same time. The initial shock and reality that all 15 biopsies would return a positive verdict. My ride home made easier by a mother never willing to let one of her children go, trying to exude a positive exterior while hurting beyond belief inside. For me it is so hard to watch others suffer so I try to internalize my sadness and see past tests and surgery.

The answer to the above question… HELL YES! It can take the life and soul out of your spirit… especially your soul. The alternative answer, and the one clinged to this summer… USE cancer, just as it forces itself on you and the ones you love. Use it to motivate. Use it to bring a calm reality to expectations… USE IT UNTIL IT DIES. The alternative, is unacceptable… it is doing its best to crush not just your body but that soul that makes you who you are.

Planning family visits, and especially photography trips started a year prior. The logistics of saving and finding what will fill that creative spirit produced a lot of mental legwork. Just as cancer was working its evil plan for the following year, I would do the same until both would collide in July, two weeks prior to my leaving for a visit to see my youngest daughter and grandchildren. I can only tell you what I decided… I chose to live as best as one can even with a dark cloud constantly following. The verdict was Prostate Cancer and dates for tests and surgery were set into what seemed like slow motion while the angst of waiting ran head on in my desire to rid myself of this deadly parasite.

The solution was to immerse myself into my happy place… photography. My cathartic travels started in Maine by participating in a natural light Portrait class lead by Matt Cosby. For six days I was exposed not only to his spirit, but as I learned the spirit of the class, especially the people I interacted with in order to learn their story. Thinking about the cancer did not come up until the last day when Matt asked… “so what are you going to do when you get home?”. Suddenly cancer reared it head and with tears in my eyes I shared with him what was waiting for me. I told him I was there because… I chose to be and did not want cancer to control any more of me then it had already. Next I would travel to Nova Scotia and then on to my next class in Newfoundland with Dave Brosha and Wayne Simpson. This would also be about portraits but included learning the use of lights. I listened to how they fell in love with photography and stressed the human spirit in their subjects. It touched my soul like no other workshop I have attended and would help me on my long ride home. I finished up in NL on a landscape shoot with photographers Curtis Jones and Wayne Simpson in Bonavista, NL. What struck me most during my time there, is the backstories both would share with us. The “why” became almost as strong as the technical aspects of their journey. Finally, after arriving home and taking inventory of my life and hospital tests, I embarked on a weekend photoshoot in an old steel town in PA named Johnstown. This was a creative lighting portrait class with Joel Grimes… I am amazed at how much of himself Joel gave to everyone including the models. During the day, creating and learning side by side with other photographers, talking with family each night set my mind up for my next journey.

Surgery would come and go just as the cancer that tried to overtake my body. What is present… the spirts of those around me. Friends both old and new stay in contact and call or send letters, and especially shared travels, experiences and life lessons. I am reminded that we are never alone… family is a constant in both encouragement and support. I embrace everyone of the souls I met this summer, I know part of their story and now I can share part of mine, through the photographs I took and the creative spirit that still dwells deep inside.

39 responses

  1. Hey Mike, I came to your blog via Denise’s blog.
    The portraits are amazing and so is your spirit.
    Though cancer is a scary word, I can see that the post is 9 months old.
    Hope you are doing much better now.
    Good wishes.

    Liked by 1 person

    June 23, 2019 at 2:39 am

  2. With tears in my eyes now I am thinking of you. I admire your fighting spirit and your use of photography in the fight. These are wonderful portraits Mike. This post tells much about the beauty of the human spirit and especially your own. Be well my friend. XO

    Liked by 1 person

    October 4, 2018 at 10:40 am


    Oh Mike, I’m so sorry for all you are going through. You are a wonderful person, father, son and photographer. We have known each other since we were young. Fast-forwarding life, you were my “go to guy” when I joined our camera club. You were always willing to help me “learn the ropes”, no matter what time of day or night. I just want you to know that I care and that I will be keeping you in my prayers. Your soul shines bright, even through this night……. Much love to you always, Susan xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    September 21, 2018 at 8:38 pm

  4. Barry Nealis

    Not only are you an amazing photographer, but also a beautiful writer!

    These portraits are exceptional. I especially like #9 and #11.

    All your work always inspires me.

    I wish you all the best with your recovery!

    Liked by 1 person

    September 21, 2018 at 8:25 pm

  5. Your words and images always inspire me, but this post especially so. Cancer seems to touch all of us. I’m wishing you all the best, and fondly remembering our time together on the Camargue trip.

    For all your trials this year, you certainly captured some amazing portraits. I hope our paths cross again soon.

    All the best to you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 21, 2018 at 4:19 pm

  6. Roland(Rollie) LeDoux,Class pres 1976

    Mike Great photo’s & story on your journey.I am had you are winning your battle with Cancer.Lost both my parents to the deadly disease,Mom in “88”, after 10+ years of fighting it at age 49. Dad in 2012, only 45 days,Melenoma took him quick at the age of 77.Myself am slowly loosing the battle with ALS,though still holding my own 4 years(yesterday)after being diagnosed with this killer.they told me you’ll be dead in 2-3 years.I told them no way,I’m not giving up.Im still here & walking(with leg braces & Rollator, But I can tell it’s slowly taking my body away.I have made & lost many friends since the on set of this killer.My Motovsince day 1,” Never GIVE UP!!,KEEP FIGHTING !! F..K MND’S,ALS/MS”. Just think my old friend,Cancer has not been around as long As ALS( first case diagnosed in 1846 in northern France,Ms first case diagnosed in 1869 just north of Paris,they still have no way of treating or controlling these diseases.I’ll keep you in my prayers it stays in remission for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 20, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    • Rollie sorry to hear but great to hear from you… it’s been awhile hasn’t it!!! I’ll be thinking of you also my friend.


      September 20, 2018 at 7:39 pm

  7. Jeff Feeny

    Mike, your story and your sublime images are so inspiring. You embody all that us photographers strive to be….Engaging, Creative, Funny, Honest, Skilled [always admire your post-processing acumen], Driven to explore and capture moments in time – moments that tell a story or just show us the beauty of the world we live in. Just click on that “healing” brush tool and try to wipe away all the distractions. You are strong and considered a true friend by so many, especially me….except when I see one of your images pop up during judging at SJCC and realize mine has no shot! :^0
    Our thoughts and prayers to you and your family.
    All the best,

    Liked by 2 people

    September 20, 2018 at 10:53 am

  8. Wishing you the best, Hey tell me when we can go out and shoot.
    I’m planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies, do you want to come?

    Liked by 1 person

    September 20, 2018 at 10:03 am

    • Well hell yeah… One big problem… I did not retire yet! Believe it or not but I’m planing on going back Oct 1st… thanks for thinking of me!!!!


      September 20, 2018 at 7:33 pm

  9. Susan Smith

    Mike – I knew you were a good guy the day you told me where to go down steps to find rust at the Pittsburgh Steelers mill. We have followed one another from time to time on FB. But reading this I want to know you better. We have a few things in common. First I will saw heart and soul to survive. I am a 20 year survivor of stage 3 breast cancer. I was a teacher, a lawyer, and a few other career personas but turned to creative. First knitting then jewelry making and just when I met you photography. I now believe that this will be my life long love and pursuit. The images above are amazing and help tell your tale.
    I will hold you and yours in my thoughts. I live in Philadelphia. I. volunteer at an amazing “school” in North Philly that I would love to show you. My home is large enough to share. If you and your wife would line to fit in a visit. BT BTW I taught cooking so a decent meal included.
    Sending healing thoughts My email is

    Liked by 1 person

    September 20, 2018 at 8:24 am

    • Susan… love this… It will forever amaze me the people I meet and share with. We will definitely shoot together again… thank you so much for this note!!!


      September 20, 2018 at 9:39 am

  10. Barbara Fallon

    Beautiful as always just like your soul. You are the warmest, caring man I know. That warm ness shows in all your photography. I am so happy to call you a friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 20, 2018 at 7:52 am

  11. Diane Emerson

    At first I thought you were photographing others who were dealing with cancer. Come to find out, it was you! I’m so happy you continued with all your summer plans. The work in this blog is extraordinary. So often we think about the moment caught in the photo and not what might be going on in the photographer’s life at the time of the shoot. Sending you good energy and perfect timing for the road ahead. Doing what you love to do is the best therapy.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 20, 2018 at 1:03 am

    • Yep It was me Diane… thanks so much for viewing and leaving such a heartfelt note.


      September 20, 2018 at 9:36 am

  12. robertldoc

    Hi Mike. I had trouble leaving comments so I thought I would write. I totally enjoyed my time with you and thought you were a true scholar and gentleman. I adore your work. You are so much further along the path than I and I could learn a lot from you. I hope we get to shoot together again. I love these portraits. looks like I need to take more classes. Thank you for sharing, Bob Levy


    Liked by 1 person

    September 20, 2018 at 12:20 am

    • LOL… I see you were able to connect twice… I recognize that signature anywhere. Thanks again Bob.


      September 20, 2018 at 9:35 am

  13. Robert Levy

    When I see your work I think of how fortunate I am to have shot with you. Not only are you an amazing photographer, so much further along in the journey than I, but you are a scholar and a gentleman….a true scholar and a gentleman. I enjoyed our conversations at the time we met, but when I got home and saw the photos you took at the same place I was I was in awe. I wish you the best, and hope to shoot with you again.
    Good light, good luck,
    Bob Levy

    Liked by 1 person

    September 20, 2018 at 12:11 am

    • Bob… soooo would like to shoot and catch up with you again… thank you for what you said.


      September 20, 2018 at 9:33 am

  14. Sorry you had to go through all this. I chose external beam radiation at Penn, and completed it twenty years ago. My PSA has remained steady and unthreatening. I hope your prognosis is equally good. Before the radiation I was on Megace (a manufactured drug similar to the female hormone progesterol) to try and prevent any metastases. When I announced that to the family my daughter, Sigrid, asked if I was going to start wearing dresses. That didn’t happen either. All the best, Mike.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 19, 2018 at 10:15 pm

    • Yes Ralph it affects so many of us on so many levels… big thanks for the share.


      September 20, 2018 at 9:32 am

  15. Denise Ippolito

    Hi Mike, I wish you only the best! You are one of the kindest people I know and you are stronger than you even know. Keeping you in my thoughts.
    Hugs, denise

    Liked by 1 person

    September 19, 2018 at 9:48 pm

    • Hey Denise… special thoughts from a special friend!!!


      September 20, 2018 at 9:30 am

  16. Cindy

    You shurley have the courage and fortitude to surpass this challenge. You will be in our thoughts and prayers throught.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 19, 2018 at 8:45 pm

  17. Sandra N Horner

    Thank you for sharing! What a powerful story, Mike! You are an incredible person, always with an incredible story to share. Your pictures always tell a beautiful story and this is no different. I will keep you in my daily thoughts and prayers during this journey. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    September 19, 2018 at 8:08 pm

  18. Dear Mike:
    Alan and I are so honored that you made the effort to share your journey with us. Besides being a talented photographer, you are a really, really good writer, a skill I look for and appreciate every day.
    We would like to have you as our guest on a Photo Field trip that catches your fancy. You’re such a joyful and upbeat presence. That you have found photography so nurturing and meaningful during this time makes us smile. We hope to continue to be part of that therapy for you.
    All our best
    Alan & Barbara
    Princeton Photo Workshop

    Liked by 1 person

    September 19, 2018 at 7:50 pm

    • Alan and Barb… thanks for the comment… as you probably found out I love not just shooting with both of you but the banter we share is priceless!!!


      September 20, 2018 at 9:28 am

  19. It nearly did mine. I do not have cancer but I recently returned from burying my sister who did. She was a fighter and my biggest blog/website fan. I usually publish weekly but for the past weeks since her passing I have struggled to post. I refuse to give up or give in just for the fact that she fought and was blessed to live as long as she did. She would not be pleased if I throw in the towel. So, be encouraged. You may have cancer, but cancer does not have you. Continue to let your creative juices flow that they may bless and inspire others. May God grant you healing and keep you in the palm of His hand.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 19, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    • First I totally understand your pain having lost many family members… thank you very much for the touching comment.


      September 20, 2018 at 9:25 am

  20. Renee Brownman

    I knew there was something amazing about you from the moment I met you, Mike. This post brought tears on so many levels…your courage, your spirit, your story. You are so loved, and there’s a darn good reason for it. You will be in my thoughts on a daily basis. You inspire me.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 19, 2018 at 7:18 pm

    • Hey Renee… you inspire me also… great to have met you!!!


      September 20, 2018 at 9:21 am

  21. It seems from the photographs and the energy you put into them that the big C has a mighty foe in your body my friend. These images show how a soul as creative as yours can face adversity and still create beauty. You never cease to inspire me not just with your photography but with your life, strength and friendship. Be well and know we are thinking of you often.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 19, 2018 at 7:00 pm

  22. Vivian Lewis

    The path was long and winding and you included what nourished your soul. Thank you for sharing your journey. Wishing you a complete healing with more opportunities to exercise your creativity.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 19, 2018 at 6:55 pm

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