A new photography book showcases survivors with messages of inspiration.
At 6-years-old, most kids are trying to snag another snack from mom and dad and figuring out how they can stay up past their bedtime. But for Melody Lomboy-Lowe, her youth was spent in and out of the hospital receiving chemo cocktails to help her fight acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
It was the 1980s. Treatment wasn’t as advanced as it is now, and many children with cancer whom Lomboy-Lowe befriended didn’t survive the disease. As she grew up, facing more chemotherapy and regular scans, she felt alone.
Now 43 years old, the married mother of three boys has turned a passion project into a reality to help other cancer survivors heal. Lomboy-Lowe and her niece Gracelyn Bateman spent more than two years photographing and interviewing more than 100 cancer survivors from Los Angeles to New York City for the newly released book “Beyond Remission: Words of Advice for Thriving.”
In an interview with Heal ®, Lomboy-Lowe and Bateman, who plan to use profits from the book to purchase copies for hospitals and oncology offices, discussed what they wish to accomplish.
Lomboy-Lowe: I was 6 years old and going to my first day of first grade. It was kind of a ritual that my mom would brush my hair in the morning. I had really long, thick brown hair. When she was brushing my hair, she saw that my lymph nodes were very swollen on my neck. She thought maybe I had an allergy, but I felt fine. So she sent me to school, and when I got home they had doubled in size. It was kind of an ongoing thing. She brought me to the doctor, but the leukemia hadn’t hit my bloodstream yet, so it wasn’t showing up in my blood. There was a lot of going back and forth, and my mom saying, “Please see her. There’s something wrong.” Eventually, my doctor sent us to City of Hope National Medical Center (in Duarte, California). They did a bone marrow biopsy, and that’s where I was diagnosed.
I had three years of chemotherapy. I had chemotherapy by mouth, and then every month I would spend a week in the hospital getting chemo. The regimen had bone marrow aspirations every week until I was in remission, because I was in a clinical trial. This regimen is actually still used today. So it was a successful clinical trial for kids with cancer. I didn’t have radiation.
I was very sick. Weight loss was an issue, and I had learning issues because of chemo fog and not going to school as often as other kids. I think the long-term effect is my immune system is never as strong as other people.
I think that, like a lot of anxiety, which is super common with cancer patients as they call it “scanxiety,” you’re always afraid you feel a lump or a bump and you think that it’s cancer. It’s exacerbated (because) my husband is an oncologist, so I get to hear him talking to patients all the time. As far as physical effects, I was really fortunate that I was able to have children. Most of my peers (who) survived were not able to. But again, a lot of them had radiation and I did not.
Yes, absolutely. My middle son has very bad asthma and my husband does not want to take chances (potentially passing COVID-19) to his patients, so we are ultra-careful. We go for walks in our neighborhood, but we don’t see friends. We FaceTime a lot and will deliver goodies to friends, but we just leave it on their porches. We mask up if we’re out.
Bateman: This started because when Melody was going through treatment as a child, she didn’t really know any survivors. It’s based on her wanting to be able to show people a sense of hope and that they can do it. We didn’t have Instagram back then. And right now, Instagram has such a rich community of survivors, fighters and thrivers. But it’s very different to be able to see (more than) the eyes and the faces. To hear the stories and the advice and wisdom from the journey. It just hits a little bit differently.
What we’re hoping is that the book is not only a sense of community for them at a time where they feel isolated and alone, but also gives them hope. We have so many diverse cancer survivor participants in this book. We have (more than) 32 different types of cancer represented. We have childhood cancer survivors (who) are now well into adulthood, we have young cancer survivors and we have some (who) are in remission just in this last year.
Lomboy-Lowe: I don’t want them to have something heavy. There are so many books that look like novels that people have to read through just to get a little information. I wanted it to be quick and simple.
Bateman: Melody survived acute lymphoblastic leukemia and we actually had a few childhood cancer survivors, very young ones come through with that same exact diagnosis. And to be able to see them kind of look up to her like, “Oh, I can be that someday. I can be healthy and happy.” It was a very touching thing to see not just those childhood survivors look up to her, but also to see their parents kind of have this ease about them like, “OK. It’s possible for my child who’s gone through so much to thrive just like this woman has.”
Lomboy-Lowe: One of the little girls (who) had ALL — her name was Brooklyn — her quote was just so simple. All she said was, “I’m glad I kicked cancer’s butt.” A lot of (the quotes) are very deep or health-oriented. Hers was just so childlike and simple.
Lomboy-Lowe: In our book, there is one common theme with most of the survivors, and it’s “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” We gave each survivor a questionnaire and interviewed them, and almost everyone said something like that in their responses. Don’t take little things so hard because your life can be so much more beautiful if you don’t waste time. And that’s how I definitely live every day.
Bateman: I also wanted to add that this book is all about helping the fighters heal. What we found at the photo shoots and in connecting people and creating a community through this is that this was very healing for the survivors, too. Sharing your story isn’t for everybody, but for survivors who have read stories and feel like sharing, I encourage them to do so, and maybe they can pay it forward and find a safe space to share their story.