A new way to picture illness

April 29, 2008  |  Posted by Celeste Smith

Helping sick kids see themselves in a better light

Seven-year-old Madison Robinson of Concord hasn't been big on hats or wigs since losing her hair last year because of treatment for leukemia.

But the flower headpiece -- and photographer Deborah Triplett's coaxing -- worked perfectly for a recent portrait. So did the idea of having others in the photo, such as Elizabeth Compo, the child life specialist who is Madison's best friend of sorts while the youngster is at Presbyterian Hemby Children's Hospital.

"We want remembrances of them," said Madison's mom, Kelly Robinson. "They played such an integral part in her treatment. These are memories that we'll look back on forever."

That's the idea behind the Charlotte-area chapter of Flashes of Hope. The nonprofit recently launched monthly children's photo sessions at Presbyterian Hospital near uptown.

The charity arranges for professional photographers to take portraits of youngsters with life-threatening diseases. Volunteer makeup artists and stylists get the children and adults ready for close-ups. The photographers donate their work.

Flashes of Hope started in 2001 in Cleveland, Ohio, by founder Allison Clarke and her husband, Kip, during their son's successful treatment for cancer. Now Flashes of Hope has 25 chapters around the country, according to the Web site. The Charlotte area chapter started last year.

The idea is to help children feel better about their changing appearance by celebrating it, and mom Teresa Brice couldn't agree more.

Mom and daughter Tiffany, 18, who has leukemia, both recently sat for portraits. Brice, 43, already has a prominent space picked out in their east Charlotte residence for the pictures.

Wearing makeup for the first time was all it took to get Tiffany twisting her shoulders in a glamorous pose. "She's been watching `America's Next Top Model,' " someone joked.

"She can look up and say `Wow. That's a goal. I can continue to look this way through my cancer care,' " said Brice, as the duo left the session to head to Tiffany's clinic appointment.

Each family receives a free photo package that includes two portraits framed in a keepsake leather folder, proofs and a CD of all the images.

It's a charitable effort that strikes a chord with many, said chapter president Bev Neely Bruce, of Weddington. She has booked volunteer photographers through May 2009. Many volunteers are cancer survivors or are close to survivors.

"Everybody has their own story, why they want to give back," said Bruce, 53, who is dealing with a recurrence of Stage 3 ovarian cancer, but is medically stable. "For me, it's giving back to the medical community."

On a recent morning, the hospital's teen room bustled with makeup artists and stylists dabbing brushes in eye shadows and face powders.

Mom Vickie Bradley, 54, and her mother, Ella Dean Hinson, 72, sat still in the styling chairs getting made up. David Bradley, 21, admitted he wasn't too sure at first about getting his photo taken until he saw how enthused Hinson was about it. David learned at 17 he had a brain tumor.

"She's done so much for me," said Bradley of Hinson, his grandmother. Since David likes wearing jeans, Bradley and Hinson wore them for the photo, too. They all smiled broadly as the photographer clicked away.

"(Through) his long journey ... he's always been positive, always on the upside," said Bradley. "I'm sure the pictures are going to show that."

Want to give?
To donate to the Charlotte area chapter of Flashes of Hope, go to, and select the Charlotte link next to "Find a Chapter." A $25 donation pays for the framing, postage costs and development of one child's photo session, said chapter president Bev Neely Bruce. To volunteer for the Charlotte area chapter, contact Bruce at


Get involved in just 5 minutes more

Donate now and brighten the lives of children with cancer.

Spread the wordgo

Send a personal appeal to your friends and family.