Stories Have the Power to Heal

We have been following Humans of New York's work with Sloan Kettering very closely.  As you know, storytelling and the power of story to heal are key elements of the Portraits that Move mission, particularly in our work with Portraits that Heal.

Our team of filmmakers knows first hand the impact that the act of seeing and hearing their stories can have on children with chronic, life threatening illnesses, and on the families that love, support and share the journey with them.

Screenshot:  Humans of New York

Screenshot: Humans of New York

So when Humans of New York began its Pediatric Cancer Series telling the story of children with cancer and the doctors who care for them we understood just how special and how powerful it would be.  The series uses photos and text to tell individual stories in an initiative to  help raise money and awareness for the pediatric department of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Thanks to the spotlight that Humans of New York helped to shine on children and their individual, unique stories, $3.7 million was raised for Sloan Kettering. 

Today we ask you, how else can storytelling and image sharing help to change the world?  And what can each one of us do to shine a spotlight on someone in need - someone who needs to be heard? 

Telling My Story

In 1971 I was born prematurely with an extremely rare esophageal birth defect. I had several surgeries as a baby and spent much of my early life in and out of the hospital. It was touch-and-go for a very long time. Most of my childhood after about age 3 was healthy and my health stabilized until I was about 21.

Since age 21, I have had 3 major surgeries to repair my esophagus, hundreds of tests and several long hospitalizations. My digestion will never be “normal,” and the struggle I deal with is constant and consistent. It is at times harrowing, often uncomfortable, and extremely confusing.

I have alluded to my health struggle before without ever telling my full story. I have always known that my experience is what allows me to tap into the richness of life and that I bring that to all of the conversations we have with kids, most especially to those with illness. I am deeply aware of how short life is, how fleeting and how meaningful.

So, why now? An opportunity came into my life to tell my story as part of a show ONLY HUMAN on NPR's WNYC.  I meditated on it and decided that sharing my experience could be helpful to others. When I looked deep down, I recognized that it was unfair to ask others to share their experiences if I was not willing to share my own. 

Listen to me tell my story:

I hope it makes you laugh, brings you some insight into who I am and why documentation is so important to me. I hope it moves you, makes you think, and encourages you to share.

Thank you for listening, for reading this blog, for sharing your own stories and most of all for supporting me and our work. All stories are worth telling and I appreciate your support in our mission to do so.  

Portraits that Heal: Meet Kaela

"... a powerful testament of Love, Faith, Hope and Perseverance!"

We want to thank you and your team from Portraits that Heal for making Kaela feel at ease during the video shoot for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation.

You were able to capture Kaela being herself, doing the things she loves, like Taekwondo, swimming, playing piano...

I love the fact that all the questions you asked were unscripted. I got so emotional just listening to her story.

The images that your team captured with our family dynamic and Kaela as the storyteller was simply phenomenal! The end product is a powerful testament of Love, Faith, Hope and Perseverance!

- The Cruz Family

Portraits that Heal gives voice to children that suffer from illness and other challenges and the non-profits that serve them by creating documentary portrait videos that empower children to share their stories in their own words.

Portraits that Heal - Meet Edie

"Working with your team was so easy!   You were able to give our story a true voice and share the innocence and bravery of our daughter Edie with everyone. Emily and I will forever cherish this video."

- Nick, Edie's dad

Portraits that Heal gives voice to children that suffer from illness and other challenges and the non-profits that serve them by creating documentary portrait videos that empower children to share their stories in their own words.

On Gratitude, Ronald McDonald House and Teaching Our Children

I recently did some work filming at a Ronald McDonald House in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The Ronald McDonald Organization is a national charity that provides housing for families when their children are having extended stays in the hospital.

ronald mcdonald house welcome to house that love built documentaries for healing


At each location they offer housing, a kitchen, and other support services for families to make the challenges of their situation a bit easier.

Their mission is to keep families together, as they believe that in doing so, there is healing for everyone involved in dealing with childhood illness.

As I spoke to some of the families, my perspective shifted. It is easy to take things for granted when our children are healthy and our families are home. The families I filmed are grateful for having a meal cooked for them, access to wi-fi, a bedroom that feels personal, and smiles from people who are familiar when they are far from home.

behind the scenes ronald mcdonald house

Listening to these families, I saw that their gratitude was deep, overwhelming and intense. It created opening and closeness.

Talking to Kids about Gratitude

I try to use gratitude in my home as a regular on-going conversation with my son.  When we focus on gratitude, it can create good feeling and closeness. Sometimes I will ask my son during dinner what happened in his day that made him feel grateful.

Other times as I am tucking him into bed, I will tell him the 5 things about my day that I am grateful for and ask him about his.

There are a lot of other ways to introduce gratitude into a conversation, to make it into a game and to keep it present.  I find that talking about what we are grateful for shifts things.  It makes the mood more positive, lighter and gentler.

Daily Awareness of Gratitude

In that spirit, today I am grateful for

  • My son
  • My good health
  • My family and dear friends
  • The beautiful morning light coming in the window as I write this
  • The gift of getting to do what I love
  • The good books I have read this summer and the joy of reading
  • The challenge and fun of writing this blog
  • The day ahead

Sharing What We Are Thankful For

What are you grateful for?

How does gratitude open a conversation in your family?

Definition of a Hero

Last week we shot some footage for a campaign of work we are doing with Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. ALSF is an organization that raises money to fund childhood cancer research.  Last year we created four videos for Alex's Lemonade Stand and this year we are creating more.

We had the opportunity to meet a little boy named Cole and his family who are ALSF heroes. Cole is 11 years old and in remission from cancer. Cole is a powerful kid. He has a huge smile and his zest for life is infectious.

The definition of hero is a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds or noble qualities.  Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation defines all the children that are battling childhood cancer, as heroes and I could not agree more. In my experience spending time with these children (or any other child batting serious illness) these children are motivated, filled with fun and grateful for their lives.

Being in their presence puts things into perspective.  It makes you stop, take stock and assess things. Emotionally, it is the opposite of what one would expect. It is actually uplifting. These children are generous, open and kind. They take each moment seriously, which forces the same for those in their lives. They celebrate everything and joy radiates from them.

I can’t wait to share this video once we finish it and the others that will follow. I feel lucky to have met Cole, Edie, Kaela, Tony and others, and I so look forward to getting a moment to share in their joy and helping to fight the fight of childhood cancer in our own way.