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  • Writer's pictureErin Schwartzkopf

Looking Back on 2022

2022 started off with so many plans. I had set some goals for my business and made some decisions on some events. Early on, I caught some pretty devastating news that made me have to postpone a few projects and put a big hold on doing client work...but I was still able to do some and accomplish some goals. This is that story.

May 5, I got a call from my primary care physician to come in as soon as I could. In the months prior, I'd had my first mammogram which resulted in an ultrasound and then a biopsy. This call was not to give me good news. When she said the words "invasive ductal carcinoma", all I could focus on was the words "invasive" and "carcinoma". The rest was a blur. I have no idea how long I sat in her office, but I was there until they were able to get an appointment made for me with a surgeon. I met with him just 5 days later and would have my first surgery 10 days after that. The speed with which things moved was both a relief and terrifying. Nothing is worse than waiting, but it is overwhelming to have it fire back at you so quickly.

The news was devastating, but the prognosis was good. The tumor was small and was a lone one. We'd caught it very early. But the months to come were not going to be fun. After various different test results came back, I met with my oncologist and we laid everything out on the table. All of the percentages and my history and genetic tests and other tests...and we made a plan. Surgery had already removed the 1.1 cm tumor, but we had to go back to get clear margins. The lymph node was not affected. The biology of the tumor and all of the other things involved led to the decision that I would be going through 4 rounds of chemo and then 33 rounds of radiation after that. I had to cancel 2 client sessions for surgery and then put booking new ones on hold. I was losing my entire summer.

By the time I had gotten my diagnosis, I'd already paid for my spot for the Powderhorn Women's Retreat through Equine Photographers Network, so I contacted the ladies that lead it. I let them know my situation and that I very much wanted to still be able to make it because I felt that I needed it. They deserved to know that I might have to cancel with short notice. They completely understood and so we just watched and waited to see how I would do. By the time of the retreat, I'd already done 2 rounds of chemo and felt that I could handle the retreat. I may end up tired and have to miss out on some, but I was going to do it.

You see, I had made up my mind that as long as I felt ok, I would get up every day, take a shower, get dressed, and be somewhat productive. If I had rough days, I would rest and take care of me...but I wasn't going to let The Big C beat me mentally. I had some project photos I had taken before I was diagnosed and I set to working on those for print competitions. I entered the Western District Regionals and International Print Competition for the very first time. And you know what? I had images be awarded Merits in both and was in the Top Ten with one of those images in Districts. It was such a huge accomplishment to even have entered in these two major print competitions to begin with. Having images earn merits was beyond anything I could have hoped for my first time!

So as the retreat neared, I kept in touch with the ladies and determined that I would be able to attend. That first session was something else. At one point in time, I had gone to get a different vantage point and sat down in the tall grass. Very quickly, I found myself surrounded by this entire herd of horses...gently sniffing at me and checking me out. Several made moves to remove my ball cap, so I did it for them. I may have been giving Carien a heart attack, but I was comfortable and relaxed and the horses were all gentle and calm and curious. It wouldn't be until several weeks later when Carien shared this photo she took of me that I realized how much that moment affected everyone watching it. Horses are truly amazing.

I very much needed that retreat. I got to spend time with friends I had not seen in a year or more and got to spend a week doing something relatively normal for me. I was able to not only photograph every session, but since the chemo had wiped out the inflammation in my joints, I felt better than I had in some of the past retreats. I used it as a chance to push myself to gauge if I would be able to be there for clients. I also snapped some of my best work that week and I think much of that had to do with mindset. Between competing in the print competitions and being able to attend this retreat with no goals or plans or pressure, I found I actually learned a lot. I am always striving to do better and learn more so that I can provide the best possible images for my clients. This year may not have gone as planned but it was not a complete loss and may be responsible for some of my biggest leaps and bounds in my photography. I truly believe I created some of my very best work to date during this roller coaster of a year. Here are a couple of my favorite snapshots of that retreat week that tell the story...

I was able to attend a few of the fall Powderhorn sessions as well as the 2022 Jack Russell Terrier Club of America National Trial. I was not only able to show my dog (who placed 3rd in her class!) but I watched terriers I had bred win first and second and got to capture some amazing moments for a couple of clients there. I had finished my final chemo just a month before and would start radiation about a week after getting back home. I was even able to do a beautiful fall Equine Session before cold and wind would render the trees bare of their gorgeous foliage.

As I write this, I am done with all of my short term treatments. I will be on medication for at least the next 10 years and will be extra diligent with my annual mammograms (oncologist sees no reason for me to need them more often at this point, yay!!). There is no cure yet, but I look forward to a long relationship with NED (No Evidence of Disease) and am glad to no longer have one or more medical appointments every week. I am now planning my business goals and events for 2023 with a new found sense of empowerment. This year has not gone as planned and I was not able to do all of the things I wanted to, but I did a lot. I showed myself (and others) that I could do it. I showed cancer that it doesn't own me or my life or control me.

If you take only one thing away from this, let it be this...mammograms save lives. I had no symptoms. This was my first routine mammo and after the tumor was located and confirmed with ultrasound and biopsy, 4 different medical professionals still could not feel it. Are they fun? No. Is it terrible? Also no. It is a bit of squashing and not super comfortable, but considering it very literally saved my life, it just isn't bad enough to not do it. If you wish to take a second thing from it, don't ever let your mind get in the way of you doing things. I could have just crumpled and stayed in bed and let the idea of cancer prevent me from taking another image. Some folks do have a harder time and different treatments affect people differently, because your body needs it, not because your mind is telling you to just give into the diagnosis. Dial back some if you have to...have down days when you need to recharge...but don't let the thought of it all be what keeps you from continuing on.

I was able to have some amazing sessions this year and meet some amazing people. I have incredible clients who not only value photography of their horses and dogs, but they have beautiful examples of the animals and they have also been incredibly understanding and flexible in working with me. My schedule was sometimes a moving target and sometimes we just didn't know if we were going to be able to make it happen right up until we just did it. I leave you (and 2022) with a quick photo recap of those amazing clients...

Bring on 2023! I have plans for her! Pleased to say that I am booking client sessions now!

Did you find this post helpful? Would you like to see more like it?

If you answered "Yes", I have good news for you! I am part of a blog circle comprised of pet photographers from all over the world. To see the next post on this topic, Atlanta pet photographer Courtney Bryson looks back at last year with some of the best, biggest, and funniest pet photos of the year in the annual 2022 Pet Superlatives! Follow the links at the bottom of her blog and continue around the circle. When you find yourself back here, you know you made it all the way around! Happy reading!

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