Local Photographer Offers Flashes of Hope for Kids with Cancer

November 24, 2014  |  Posted by Linday Garric

Photographers capture moments, preserve emotions and convey feelings through the images caught by the shutter of their lens.

For families dealing with childhood cancer, the moments captured by photographers like Whitefish Bay’s Ellen Cook through the organization Flashes of Hope at in-hospital photo shoots provide forever precious memories.

Flashes of Hope was founded in 2001 by the parents of a child with cancer. The completely volunteer organization now has chapters in 55 cities and photographs more than half of the children diagnosed with cancer in the United States each year. Families are given reprints, enlargements and a disk at no charge.

Cook reflects, "For too many families, these might be the last images of their children." In fact, 25 percent of the children photographed do not survive.

Flashes of Hope deals solely with childhood cancer and since 2009 have been fund raising for childhood cancer research through the Kick-It Program. Childhood cancer research is a highly neglected area, which according to Flashes of Hope’s website, "receives only 4 percent of U.S federal funding for research R&D in (the) pharmaceutical industry (while) adult cancer research 60 percent ... children's cancer research (is) close to 0 percent." Additionally, most childhood cancers have no known cause and do not discriminate based on economic status, ethnic group or geographic area making all families vulnerable.

Cook, an in-demand professional photographer in Milwaukee and beyond known for her distinct ability to artistically document family events like weddings, pregnancy and infant to senior portraits has spent the last five years as one of many area photographers that donates time and talent to Flashes of Hope.

She sees her service as a way to use her creative passion and express her gratitude for her two healthy children while giving families with children diagnosed with cancer the gift of beautiful portraits and memories. She has done shoots at Children’s Hospital and One Step Camp, a summer program that brings 15 photographers from Milwaukee and Chicago to shoot more than 200 portraits for three hours, rain or shine.

Cook describes these intimate shoots as being intense experiences with no two ever being alike. She totes studio gear, backdrops and lights to the hospital where an "amazing group" of volunteers set up a temporary studio. Cook keeps it simple, not utilizing props as she wants "a direct relationship with these kids and their families." Some children are so ill they are unable to leave their hospital rooms so, Cook goes to them.

She says, "We never discuss the medical conditions of the children … these are families dealing with a terrible diagnosis. Our time is spent with camera in hand witnessing the courage and love of both these amazing children and their families."

The last shoot Cook did illustrates why she continues to devote her time to the organization. She describes the day in detail, "We went up to the ICU to shoot one of the kids. I have never seen so many pieces of equipment hooked up to one person. The girl’s mother and little sister were in the room. She was so excited to have us there! At one point, I had her on her stomach for a few photos. Then, she got up and said she did not feel well and I held a plastic container while she vomited blood. After a few minutes we started shooting again. This time she was standing next to her bed. I asked her to just look at me…as we were talking…and told her ‘not a big smile’ and then she said to me ‘It is just so hard NOT to smile.’"

Cook is now taking her efforts beyond volunteering to "let people know about how brave and pure these children are in dealing with this terrible diagnosis of childhood cancer." She is sponsoring a musical fundraising event to benefit Flashes of Hope on Dec. 7, at the Hot Water Wherehouse featuring the band Davina and the Vagabonds. Tickets are still available and $45 of the $60 price is tax deductable. All money raised will go directly to the Milwaukee Flashes of Hope Chapter.

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