As a wedding photographer, Tracie Taylor observed unique, intimate moments and captured them through her lens.
But a kidney cancer diagnosis about four years ago changed that for her.
“For a photographer, vision is a huge thing,” said Taylor, who is 49 and lives in California. “With every surgery, through treatment, from coming off meds – my eyes changed. It wasn’t progressively better or worse, it just changed every time and there were different changes in each eye.”
Taylor’s doctor found a kidney mass, which was ultimately determined cancerous, when they noticed an abnormal aortic pulse in her lower abdomen. She had been having some fatigue and night sweats but thought it might be due to pre-menopause. An abdominal ultrasound revealed the mass. Taylor had a partial nephrectomy followed by sunitinib (Sutent), a total hysterectomy, and another partial nephrectomy.
A genetic test was positive for von Hippel-Lindau (VHL), a rare genetic disorder that increases the risk of renal cell carcinoma (RCC).
“My mom had passed away of clear cell carcinoma a couple of years prior to my diagnosis,” Taylor said. “It had advanced to her lungs at the time of her diagnosis and we only had a few months left with her. At the time, I wasn’t nearly as educated about RCC and VHL as I am now.”
For Taylor, who often booked jobs 18 months ahead of time and also taught in the industry, the constant visual adjustments as a result of her cancer care became unsustainable.
Despite attempting to compensate with various camera settings and eventually switching from manual to automatic focus, trusting her equipment to help her get the best photos, she had to step away from the core work of photographing weddings. Instead, she focused on corporate photography, which was less physically and emotionally demanding, and fine art.
She also turned the lens on herself with a series of self-portraits during her cancer treatment.
One of the lessons of having cancer and getting treatment was growing comfortable caring for herself before involving an extended circle of caring family and friends, Tracie said.
“My needs have to be met because I’m scared. All my energy needs to be for me to fight this day-to-day,” she said. “It’s exhausting for me to take care of people, reply to everyone, touch base, and let them know I’m ok… It wasn’t until I had a lytic lesion [in my jaw bone] that I said ‘no’ and I was ok for the first time.”
Taylor’s sister often communicated with others while Taylor focused on her own care.
Right now, Taylor is doing well, keeping up with her photography work, and continuing active surveillance for a spot on one of her adrenal glands. She said she found the greatest support in her faith and from her family.
“It was a long process… but it’s ok to only take care of yourself and not worry about everyone else,” she said. “Don’t have guilt.”