My mom had now been gone from my life…taken by CANER for over 11 years now.  It seemed that when I was in high school, no one had cancer.  I heard a high school acquaintance who’s mom had cancer and I remember the talk going around the entire high school “did you hear Erica’s mom has cancer?”  It was a BIG deal.  Huge in fact.  When her mom died, it was so ..I don’t even know the word.  Crazy? Unreal?  Crazy.

In high sister was 8 years younger than me…and I remember coming home from school one day and there was a message on the answering machine – it was my mom.  Basically saying something like “stay home after school Tonia, we have some news we have to talk about”.  My heart sank.  My sister had been so tired and wanted to sleep all the time.  She was 11.  11 year-olds should be playing outside! (Lets remember – this was in 1994! – no cell phones – we actually played OUTSIDE)!  When her friends wanted to play she was too tired.  11 – and too tired?

Mom and Chuck came home to tell me the news no parents want to hear or to tell their other children..or to even utter the words.  Tarria (MY sister)…has Leukaemia.  AKA:  cancer.  MY family? Really?  This doesn’t happen to “MY” family.  As we all think at some point I’m sure.

Fortunately, Tarria had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.  It’s a childhood leukemia that is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow – and Tarria kicked it’s ASS!!!   Not all children will beat this type of cancer, but Tarria did.  Chemo, radiation…lost her hair…and kicked it’s butt!  Phew.  Out of the woods.

Digital Photography was not really a thing back then, so we took pictures with 35mm film and 110 film.  I scrapbooked.  A lot.  So the images in todays post are going to all be pictures….OF pictures.  This is my sister when she lost her hair…and then when it grew back and she graduated grade 8 with a clean bill of health!

TarriaYears pass by.  I have graduated high school, gone to university for a year, graduated college (Paramedic program) …AND had a baby.  So much happened in such a short time.  The years literally were flying by before my very eyes.  Still, film was the way to capture pictures.  Mia (my baby) was the focus of many of my pictures.  I wish I had more pictures of my mom…kleenex box please.

June 2001.  What a horrible month.  My grandmother who’s husband just died 3 years earlier due to surgery complications (cancer?)…gets diagnosed with Colon cancer.  Huge blow.  My grandmother was that home of Christmas mashed potatoes and turkey to die for.  The place that every year our whole family would go to celebrate a glorious day as family.  Gathered together…I wish I had pictures.  More pictures.  I wish.  A week after my grandmother was diagnosed with Colon cancer…my mom was diagnosed with Stomach Cancer.  Yup.  When it rains, it pours.  I was 25.  Mia was 2.  Tarria, now just 17.

I love to remember my mom like this:

Charlie_4…and like this:


Couldn’t really remember her like this, but this gives me such  smile in my heart!  1976….


Unfortunately, I was not into photography when my mom was battling her fight with this …stomach CANCER.  I had a camera. My mom took photography years before this.  But I didn’t value an image.  I didn’t value the memory that one single image could have.  I wish I took more pictures.

My mom and her best friend the summer of 2002.


At least she had a smile on her face.  My mom was crazy.  My mom was my best friend.  My mom had a rough life…married at 17, baby at 18, separated at 19….became a stripper to support me.  We moved around a lot.  A few different cities, a few different homes.  But I loved her more than life.  She was someone I was fearful of in a very healthy way…someone I respected.  For all she had been through, her kids were her #1 ! Her kids were her life.  She made no bones about it and wanted the world to know that no matter what – her kids came first and she would have done ANYTHING to protect us.

I used to scrapbook.  This is one of the pages of one of my many scrapbooks.  a calendar page..see Sunday October 13th?


…followed by Thursday the 17th?  The stripped Saturday marks the day that my mom died.  It’s so crazy!  I mean, we had thanksgiving dinner on Sunday…and in 6 days…she’s just…gone.  I wish I took more pictures.Charlie_5

After a while, my sister and I (who lived in my moms home by ourselves – with my little girl) decided to start thinking about selling her house.  It was time to gather her stuff…my sister took moms death so hard.  She was only 17 when mom died…I can’t image been a teen ager.  My daughter is only 15 right now…I can’t imagine what she would be like if I died in just 2 years…what a tragedy for children to lose their parents so young.  A while after selling her place and going through some of my things, I found a roll of film.  Hmmmm, what could be on this roll.  I anxiously held that roll of film praying to a God (who at the time I didn’t know existed – I was not a Christian then)…hoping will all my might – there would be even just ONE image of my mom  on that roll of film.  And not just any image but one GOOD image? I mean what were the chances?  She was always the one who took the pictures!  If there was a good shot, would it be of her while she was sick?  Bald?  Upset?  One of her bad days where she had feeding tubes hooked up in her bedroom because she couldn’t swallow food?  Would it be hospital pictures?  Would it be blank?  Please oh please…would there be just one? Just ONE image I could stair at  and love…and wish I could hold onto as if it were my mom herself in front of me?  What my eyes could not believe and my heart could almost not take…


THANK YOU JESUS!!!  O N E picture!! Just ONE!! I was so happy!! My mom.  And my baby.  Wow…I just weep.  How beautiful is this last image that I got to see of my mom.  The last shot of the roll of film.  The last picture to be taken…and kept hidden as a gem! How wonderful!!!

So what’s my point?  If only I had more pictures.  If only I had pictures to capture WHO my mom was in her last year.  Not of her cancer, or her illness…not of her bald head and when she would put her wig on to hide it – but of her and WHO she was.

Fast forward.  I’m a photographer now.  I can give women and their children this opportunity  to capture them as they fight this fight.  I can take pictures of them beautiful, laughing, images that will last forever in the hearts of their families.  Lose the battle or win the fight…these images will be here for women to look back upon and say “I kicked cancer’s ass!” …and if the Lord doesn’t will that to happen…their kids can look back and say “my mom was beautiful…even in her fight”.

Together with my friend and make-up artist Corrie, we will be offering a day of pampering for SEVEN women fighting cancer.  Breast cancer, colon, stomach, lymphoma, brain…it doesn’t matter what type of cancer, but the point is that we all know someone fighting this battle.  A woman fighting cancer.  Someone you KNOW or someone you think deserves this day of pampering.

Corrie is honouring her best friend this day as I honour my mom.  Her best friend Joanne has a little girl named Sonya…Sonya has grade 3 Anaplastic Astrocytoma.  She had a the timor removed in December and is now going through Chemo.  Her and her family live in Winnipeg and will be running for her to raise awareness on the same date that our day is being held – Saturday June 7.  This is Sonya:


In honour of Sonya and of my mom Charlie, we will be pampering 7 women on Saturday June 7th in Brantford.  Details will be given out to the 7 chosen women.  Though we would love more than anything to photograph more, with hair and make-up, time does not work on our side.  So unfortunately we can only photograph 7.

If you or someone you know, is battling cancer and want to be a part of this amazing day, please send your story to Tonia (me) at

We have had stories coming in from advertising this on Facebook, but I wanted to tell my story and why I feel this is so important.   We all know someone deserving of this opportunity.  Nominate them.  Or yourself!! YOU deserve it!!

God bless you all as you fight this courageous battle.

**if you want to participate, you should know that the day is going to be filmed by RC2 Films.  You must be willing to be filmed and of course to have your beautiful photographs shared on my blog.  All participants will be receiving digital  images from their shoot and a copy of the video made during the day.    Make-up will be done by Corrie Gallant who has special training for make-up for oncology.

With love and blessings,


Karen - April 28, 2014 - 4:34 PM

Beautifully written Tonia! What a blessing you are giving others!

Sabrina - April 28, 2014 - 6:17 PM


This was so incredibly special I am absolutely touched by your story. I am among the lucky ones, my mother is a breast cancer survivor of 12 years and your post brought me back to those days where mom was trying to cope with her own news and protect me. Looking back now it is too much for anyone going through something like that, none of us dealt with it well and I can honestly say it was the darkest time of my life. Every holiday felt like the last and every day I felt I was one step closer to having her torn away from me. Time has a way of making you take things for granted. Your post has reminded me how important it is to take pictures, lots of pictures. It is amazing that you and Corrie are going to keep that memory alive for other families, it is a remarkable sentiment.

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