Dari’s Story: Speaking ‘Child’

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Each day a different guest blogger will be featured who will generously share their personal experience with childhood cancer.  Stories are always more potent than statistics.  

Photography by Dari McManus

I’m not certain how or when Dari’s path first crossed mine.  Maybe it was when I was writing Donna’s Cancer Story in September 2011. Honestly, I don’t know, cause a lot was going on that month and my contacts in the childhood cancer community were growing by legions each and every day.

The American Cancer Society will tell you, and statistically it is an accurate statement, that childhood cancer is extremely rare.  That’s all well and good, but having been part of the community since 2007, it doesn’t feel rare, and I have meet hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of folks whose lives have been devastated by the number one disease killer of children.

Dari is one of them.

She is a New York City photographer and is now part of the fabric of the childhood cancer community, as she uses her camera and her heart to document the lives of children diagnosed with cancer.  She says that she, “speak[s] ‘Child’ and kids are my thing behind a camera, so it seems like an obvious choice. It’s something very small I can do in such an unjust world. I try to be their voice because I know firsthand that the front lines are hell.”

Hell indeed.

Dari explains her process this way:

“Would another photographer see them as sick? Be uncomfortable? Freak if they puke? Kids sense that, especially these kids (I throw them around, make them laugh till they gag, and play as hard as they can tolerate. I will stop at nothing for a laugh. I’m also an epic cuddler.) I have a large amount of “kid magic” and my relationships with children blossom easily and without much effort. I love them and they love me. I steal back those smiles from the monster, and they are genuine. I take the time to study the diagnosis prior to meeting each child. I have always felt that in order to offer support, I needed to speak the language, so I speak a certain amount of cancer. I don’t “shoot and run,” I stick around. These kiddos become my wee loves and I follow our friendship through until, most of the time, they pass. Then I stick around for their parents. Bonds have been formed that will sustain for life. I can’t work with a whole lot of children at once, because of the nature of the relationships that form. If I didn’t allow myself to fall madly in love with these families, what I do just wouldn’t work. And my God how I love them.”

When I asked Dari how and why she continues, especially when so many of the children she has photographed have died, she easily tells me about how she gets more than she gives, and about the many life lessons she has gained photographing children living and dying with cancer:

“I try very hard not to sweat the small stuff, laugh as hard and as often as I can and love with reckless abandon. They have taught me how to be stronger than I ever thought possible, while maintaining a gentle heart. I now understand that every single breath I take is a gift, and I try to live as though It may be one of the last. I now know how very very important it is to sprinkle sunshine in such a way, that you leave footprints. I have learned that there is really nothing like a bald sleeping child on my chest. And, they have shown me many many times that when you die, it’s not over. Not even close. Speaking ‘Child’ is stronger than death. So is love.”

 

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