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Cancer is an ugly word. Almost everyone has been affected by it in some way. But even with such a sickly disease there are ways to shine a positive light on it. That’s what Brendan Klem wants to do by putting family first. He is offering photography sessions to families affected by cancer and helping to preserve their memories with their loved one. The sessions are done at no cost and the black-and-white images are given to the family to keep. “I want to show their love for one another despite the hard times that they are going through,” Brendan explains.
Brendan is no stranger to hard times having seen firsthand how cancer can affect family. His own father was diagnosed with acute leukemia back in 2007. What was initially a grim prognosis turned into a five-year ordeal that was a draining process for his family. “I don’t really remember much of the recent past where [my dad] was not sick, let alone frail. It wasn’t until the last two years that I came to see it all: so many hours spent in the car, planning days when we could go to the hospital or figuring out dinners to bring with us. I honestly don’t know how my mom did it day in, day out for years.”
By trade, Brendan is a photographer, but he quickly found that photography became a low priority when dealing with a sick parent. During his dad’s illness, he was able to capture some of his father’s final moments like in the image below. This is one of the last photos Brendan took of his dad; here his father is battling the effects of chemo by trying to stay warm with blankets over a heating vent. “The picture that I have of my father is one that I am thankful of taking. There are others that are amazing even though the times might not have been so good,” Brendan says.
After his father passed away in 2011, Brendan began searching for a way to give back to other families that are affected by cancer. Thus, the “family first” photos idea was born, especially as he realized the photos that he didn’t take with his own dad. “I feel I took the right amount of photos of [my father]. I just wish there were ones of the whole family together during this time too,” Brendan says. While the topic of cancer can be depressing, this project is ultimately about family and the love within. “I really have no idea how people will react to the photographs. My intention is in no way to reflect death. There is so much life and love that shine through; it washes away that view anyway. That light and love is what I try to capture, and I have been so thankful to see so much of it already with the families I have photographed.”