I wanted a great opening line for Brandi. I wanted to write an opening line that would grip you and pull you into the rest of her story. I wanted epic!
But here we are.
I've sat and thought for several minutes, I've gone over my notes, I've pondered Brandi and I's talks and conversations but I can't come up with an opening line that's as powerful as my friend. It's like trying to come up with one word that could describe Brandi, I just can't find one. So it makes sense that I couldn't write an opening line adequate to Brandi's current story.
. . . . but maybe that's because Brandi is too great for one word. Her story is too captivating and enriching for just one sentence.
So, Brandi, you don't get one word and you don't get one sentence, you get many.
• • •
"It's been a few years since you've been in front of my camera, huh," I said as I leaned back in my chair and tucked my phone more securely to my ear.
Brandi laughed. "Yeah, its been a few, it's been a few."
"A lot of life has happens since then."
"Oh yeah. You could say that," Brandi said. "Where to start? You photographed me in 2020. My mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in April of 2021. Then we lost my uncle who I loved dearly to prostate cancer. Really, we just have a strong family history of cancer that goes back. So I got screened for this cancer gene. I had it. I decided that I was not going to face what my family faced and if I could do anything to avoid it I would, it would be worth it. So I got a total hysterectomy and a double mastectomy with breast reconstruction."
It's important you understand that Brandi is incredibly active. Her physical strength and her capabilities are somewhat legendary at my gym. Her surgeries and the added time away due to complications was a sacrifice of epic proportion. Brandi was sacrificing part of her sanity. She was putting goals and achievements on hold.
"That's a lot," I said, my heart squeezing for my friend even though I knew this part of her story. I also knew there was more I didn't know. "What else happened?"
"Painful complications. More surgery," Brandi said, her voice light but serious. "Mostly to one of my breasts. In fact, because the recovery ward was full I had to recover in the cancer ward."
"That's ironic. What was that like?"
There was a soft silence. "Humbling. It was very humbling."
And how could it not be? Brandi, if she hadn't been diligent, could have been in there for cancer treatments instead of surgery recovery. She knew her recovery would be alright. She knew her stay in the cancer ward wouldn't be a long one. She noticed the other patients, their treatments, their settings, their faces, and the people that cared for them. And while they were all so kind she was thankful to not be staying long. So was everyone else.
"After our last shoot I told myself I would do this again when I was 50," Brandi said, lifting the mood. "but then after all this, I thought, 'No! I'm gonna do this now!' And I'm a literal hot mess. I wanna be the pretty girl but I also got stuff going on, ya know. That's kind of my inspiration behind all of this."
So we made a mess on Brandi's birthday.
We created a small spot of chaos in my studio, chaos full of Brandi's favorite, special, and meaningful things. Some pizza here, a bit of champagne, some glitter heels, a loved football jersey, her husband's favorite records, chocolate cake, and a whole lot of booze. If you were to glance in and take a look you'd wonder what was happening. It just wouldn't make sense to anyone else. It was uncomfortable and difficult to move. Things clashed and felt at odds but it was beautiful.
It was special.
It was meaningful.
It was Brandi.
So we laughed in this beautiful chaos where Brandi was the captivating centerpiece. I asked questions to my beautiful friend and she gave me wisdom. I watched her and thought and spoke loudly about how beautiful she is. The ease of her smile, her laugh lines, some familiar, some new, all joyfully beautiful.
I carefully moved Brandi around her lovely odds and ends, and I felt grateful to still have my friend. And gratitude that even though she suffered pain and loss, both within her family and also within herself, she was still the Brandi I, and so many others, adored.
Actually, that's not quite right.
Brandi was more, is more.
Somehow, amidst these horrible storms, she came out better than she was before. And before, she was AMAZING! This experience just made her better. And I didn't think that was possible.
Brandi has always been a woman of profound impact and strength. But now, she's richer. Who she is is now seasoned with her most recent trials and her ability to overcome them.
She carries with her a calm reassurance that things will just be ok. It's all going to be ok and it will be alright.
"You make chaos beautiful, Brandi," I said, as we sat looking at her pictures.
And because Brandi is so good she looked back at me and said lovely sweet things about me and my abilities. She said things I always want to hear and will forever remember. She shared her generous thanks with me even though she knows full well this isn't about me, it's about her. But that's another thing about Brandi, she thinks she brings the chaos but really she's the calm in the storm.
She's steady and constant.
And she's lively. If ever the ship is sinking, you'll want to be by Brandi because she'll be singing, toasting, and dancing the whole way down as she catches the top-shelf liquor before it falls into the sea below.
Brandi moves with an assurance that you can't get unless you've faced off death and fought for life. My friend fought for her life. She has a husband who adores her, a man of quiet calm that she loves beyond words. She has a younger sister who cherishes her and can't wait for future birthday celebrations and front porch chats. She has a niece and nephew she has to teach to drive and then educate how to talk your way out of a ticket. She has friends who need her, and she still needs them.
Brandi faced off cancer that wreaked havoc and left a trail of heartache through her family before whispering it was coming back for her. But instead of hiding, instead of wishing Brandi said, "Fuck you, cancer," and went to war ready to save her own life before cancer came knocking.
Brandi battled her own body and held steady because life, the memories that get to be made, and her people were worth the blood, the infections, the medicine, the burning, the loss of body parts, the forced changes . . . the pain . . .
It was all worth the life she was fighting to keep.
I just realized, Brandi is actually more than someone who weathers the storms of life when they happen to show up, she walks into storms willingly with her eyes open knowing it's going to be hard. Brandi is more than a woman who deals well when hard times roll in.
Brandi is a storm chaser. She's a woman who takes on the harder challenge because she knows, even though it might hurt, she will be better for it.
That's something special.
Brandi will go into the storm of life with a bottle of champagne and a fiery, unyielding knowledge that she is stronger than the storm.
Here's to Brandi. An unquestionably beautiful woman full of grit, wit, class, and humor. A good friend, a loving sister, and a powerhouse at the gym. A woman who's stronger than the storms she faces. Here's to Brandi, the beauty in chaos and the victor of storms.
P.S. Are you interested in an incredible photoshoot experience all your own with Melinda? Whether it be a birthday photoshoot, mother and daughter pictures, headshots and branding, or contemporary portraits and boudoir I will create something show-stopping that celebrates you!
Private Photography Studio in Athens PA.
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