Capturing Life With Cancer At Age 28

NPR | June 17, 2013 8:02 a.m.

Contributed By:

Gabriella Demczuk

Amelia Coffaro never thought she would become the subject of her own photo project.

As a freelance photographer, she has dedicated her life to telling other people’s stories until she was diagnosed with stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer at only 28 years old.

Having just turned old enough to no longer rely on her parent’s health care plan — but not making enough money to provide for her own plan — she packed her bags and said goodbye to New York, the city she loved and dreamed she would make her own, and moved back home with her family in Wisconsin.

Throughout the course of her illness, she has taken to using the camera as a means of making sense of her situation.

“When I shoot, I have an out of body experience,” Amelia says. “I don’t feel afraid to know what the doctors are going to say.” By using Instagram, she feels that she has a more immediate and direct connection with others, allowing them to see her experiences in real time.”

Amelia’s best friend and fellow photographer Elizabeth Griffin has also been documenting Amelia’s journey. Elizabeth’s photos combined with Amelia’s Instagram shots allow the viewer to not only see the struggle of a cancer patient from the outside, but also to feel and witness the struggle through the eyes of the patient herself.

The project, which they call “Project Amelia,” is meant to challenge assumptions about cancer — and to put a frame around the struggles faced by women with breast cancer.

“People still put it off as something for old people,” says Elizabeth, “but it affects those who are young and still have so much life to live.”

The process has not only brought the two friends closer, but has also allowed them to become more aware of themselves and their relationship with those they photograph.

“The more we open up to each other, the more we realize what we have in common,” Amelia says. “I’ve learned that when you love yourself, you can love other people. A wall comes down. You can be a little more human.”

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