Cancer: A Family Document

June 2, 2006

Over the last ten months I have been documenting my life with photos and essays here at In November of 2005, as I sat in the Athens airport after a trip to Norway, I received a phone call informing me that my mother was in the hospital with an inoperable tumour. These are selections of the photos I have taken documenting my family’s journey since my mother’s diagnosis. Each photoset contains a link to a relevant journal entry here on the site.

Weekend in August – a weekend with my mother, our first lengthy visit in seven years, to celebrate my leaving for art school in Greece the following week. She was in pain the entire time. This, of course, was the cancer – though it would be months before she was diagnosed.


Winter Holidays – my first Christmas at home with the family in seven years. Mom’s first chemo treatment was the week before; I had returned from Greece on December 15th to stay with her for the duration of her chemo regimen. I snapped over two hundred and fifty photos on Christmas Day – my aunt Tammie pulled me aside later and said “Keep taking pictures. I want to remember as much of this as I can”.
Mom blows out candles
Birthday in the Desert – my mother’s 45th birthday was on January 17th. We took her to my grandparent’s vacation home in Lake Havasu City and celebrated, just the women.
Omi in Wig
Haircutting Party – the day my mother woke up and found handfuls of hair on her pillow, she called her brothers and asked them to come over and shave her head. My aunt Tammie caught wind of her plans and organized a party around it. Everyone wore a wig.

I don’t know if it is bittersweet or not in retrospect, but she never really did lose her hair – right now, it has grown into the same short pixie cut she wore as a child.

March in Paros – after much deliberation and agonising, I decide to return to school for the spring semester. Mom insists that nothing will happen in three months. Four weeks later, I am called home with the news that my mother’s organs are failing, they’ve stopped chemo treatment, and have called hospice in for palliative care. She is not expected to live until Easter.
Kimmie and Omi
The Daffodil Farm – a week after my return from Greece, Mom is feeling well enough for an outing, so we head to a Daffodil Farm in Running Springs. It is the last time Mom feels well enough to dress and go out.
Mom in bed
Queen of May – despite her grim prognosis, Mom is relatively stable far past Easter. Too weak to go far from home, the family gathers for barbecues and visits frequently at the house. When I created this page, she was sitting out on the deck in the summer sunshine, enjoying a cigarette.
The Vigil, and its End
So when the sun went down I started collecting candles. I didn’t want to turn the lights on. We set candles all around Mom’s bed, in the windows, on every flat surface, then outside on the deck. We took turns running to the store for beer. We ordered pizza. We held each other as we cried. Now we are resting, but Gregg is awake. I am awake. We take turns. Mom still sleeps. I am not alone, and neither is she.

My mother, Annette Frances Carpenter Privett, died this morning at 4:45am with her family at her side. She was not alone, and she is not in pain any longer.

My aunt Tammie has been managing most of the arrangements. I went to sleep at six am, was briefly roused when the mortuary arrived, then went back to sleep until an hour ago. We are all peaceful, heartbroken, a little relieved that her fight is over.