The Meaning of Now: Living Life with Cancer


Humans are not immortal. We all have a date in which we will pass on. We could live until we reach 105, or our lives could be cut short tomorrow without warning.

This is a story about Shirley Reese who has chosen to see her cancer diagnosis as a gift. Despite the physical and mental battle of coping with treatment and the side
effects of chemo, Shirley has decided to use this time to ‘live’ with cancer instead of ‘dying’ from it.

With eight children, twenty-two grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren, 64-year-old Shirley Reese is a radiant spirit. She has stage four cancer in her
esophagus and multiple tumors in her lungs. She says that most people in her
condition are on a feeding tube, but ‘Mama Reese,’ as everyone calls her, has been an advocate her entire life and is now determined to use her cancer experience to uplift and strengthen those around her by sharing her story and solidifying her life’s legacy.

This series was part of a solo exhibition at Photoville 2018 as a commissioned work by United Photo Industries, The Mayor’s office of Media & Entertainment in collaboration with Memorial Sloan Kettering’s
‘Visible Ink’ Program. 
“Mama Reese” as everyone calls her, babysits her one-year-old grandson, Chase.
“Mama Reese” as everyone calls her, babysits her one-year-old grandson, Chase.
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The Reese family portraits on the wall as you enter the front door. Shirley keeps the stock photos in the frames to remind her children to provide new family photos.
The Reese family portraits on the wall as you enter the front door. Shirley keeps the stock photos in the frames to remind her children to provide new family photos.
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Shirley babysits up to three children, four to five days a week. Six-month-old Summer, is the daughter of an old family friend.
Shirley babysits up to three children, four to five days a week. Six-month-old Summer, is the daughter of an old family friend.
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Shirley leaving her home in Queens for a hospital check-up.
Shirley leaving her home in Queens for a hospital check-up.
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Another cancer patient and Shirley share experiences and supportive words in the waiting room at Queens Hospital Center.
Another cancer patient and Shirley share experiences and supportive words in the waiting room at Queens Hospital Center.
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Shirley waits for blood tests to determine if her immune system is strong enough to take on her next round of chemotherapy.
Shirley waits for blood tests to determine if her immune system is strong enough to take on her next round of chemotherapy.
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A powerful and uplifting meeting with Shirley with her doctors, Crystal Rogers, Barbara Seligman and student Sai Bhuvanagiri.
A powerful and uplifting meeting with Shirley with her doctors, Crystal Rogers, Barbara Seligman and student Sai Bhuvanagiri.
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Shirley’s Hematologist and Oncologist, Dr Barbara Seligman is moved by Shirley’s strength and words during a meeting.
Shirley’s Hematologist and Oncologist, Dr Barbara Seligman is moved by Shirley’s strength and words during a meeting.
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Deep relationships between doctors and patients are built in the cancer center. Dr. Crystal Rogers says farewell to Shirley for the day.
Deep relationships between doctors and patients are built in the cancer center. Dr. Crystal Rogers says farewell to Shirley for the day.
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After losing all of her hair in the chemo process, Shirley’s daughter Sherry has taken her to see celebrity wigmaker, Chanelle Wilson in the Bronx.
After losing all of her hair in the chemo process, Shirley’s daughter Sherry has taken her to see celebrity wigmaker, Chanelle Wilson in the Bronx.
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Shirley explains to Chanelle, that she would like more length in her new real-hair wig.
Shirley explains to Chanelle, that she would like more length in her new real-hair wig.
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Chanelle washes and conditions the hair before sewing it into the new wig.
Chanelle washes and conditions the hair before sewing it into the new wig.
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A foam bandage and adhesive is applied to secure the new wig for up to three weeks.
A foam bandage and adhesive is applied to secure the new wig for up to three weeks.
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At the moment of transformation. Shirley is fitted with her new wig.
At the moment of transformation. Shirley is fitted with her new wig.
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The fitting of a new wig is a truly transforming experience. Shirley is overwhelmed and thankful for the kindness and the blessings shown to her by Chanelle and her daughter.
The fitting of a new wig is a truly transforming experience. Shirley is overwhelmed and thankful for the kindness and the blessings shown to her by Chanelle and her daughter.
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Shirley must inject herself with a bone marrow stimulant, Filgrastim, to help the body make white blood cells between chemo sessions.
Shirley must inject herself with a bone marrow stimulant, Filgrastim, to help the body make white blood cells between chemo sessions.
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Mario Reese draws Shirley’s blood to test if it is healthy enough to withstand her chemo treatment.
Mario Reese draws Shirley’s blood to test if it is healthy enough to withstand her chemo treatment.
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Nurse, Anne Geoghegan prepares the apparatus to administer Shirley���s chemo treatment.

Nurse, Anne Geoghegan prepares the apparatus to administer Shirley's chemo treatment

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Cancer trial research nurse Linda Bulone comes to visit Shirley during her chemo treatment.
Cancer trial research nurse Linda Bulone comes to visit Shirley during her chemo treatment.
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Shirley shows her “port”, or access point, in which a tube is implanted into a vein to allow the administration of all her medications.
Shirley shows her “port”, or access point, in which a tube is implanted into a vein to allow the administration of all her medications.
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Chloe, getting ready for church with Grandma.
Chloe, getting ready for church with Grandma.
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Granddaughter, Chloe plays in Shirley’s shoes as they get ready for Church on Sunday.
Granddaughter, Chloe plays in Shirley’s shoes as they get ready for Church on Sunday.
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Gaining strength through her faith in God, Shirley prays during service at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn.
Gaining strength through her faith in God, Shirley prays during service at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn.
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Pastor A.R. Bernard meets with Shirley to hear her story and offer a prayer of strength and blessing to her and her family.
Pastor A.R. Bernard meets with Shirley to hear her story and offer a prayer of strength and blessing to her and her family.
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Never a dull moment in Shirley’s home with 22 grandchildren. Cousins, Chloe and Johnathan, chase each other through the house.
Never a dull moment in Shirley’s home with 22 grandchildren. Cousins, Chloe and Johnathan, chase each other through the house.
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Shirley’s lap is rarely free when she is sitting. Here, Chloe has the best spot while Shirley’s daughter Shanté holds niece Harley, the youngest grandchild at six months old.
Shirley’s lap is rarely free when she is sitting. Here, Chloe has the best spot while Shirley’s daughter Shanté holds niece Harley, the youngest grandchild at six months old.
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Grandchildren Brandon, Bryce, Chloe, Ryan and Johnathan with son-in-law Robert at home.
Grandchildren Brandon, Bryce, Chloe, Ryan and Johnathan with son-in-law Robert at home.
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Celebrating the birthdays of Shevonne’s kids, Chloe and Chase with the family.
Celebrating the birthdays of Shevonne’s kids, Chloe and Chase with the family.
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Shirley takes a rare quiet moment to reflect on her family in her home.
Shirley takes a rare quiet moment to reflect on her family in her home.
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