My Soulmate. My Hero. My Mom.

BEFORE cancer.  AFTER cancer.

It’s the simple way my brain has tried to make sense of the most complicated, devastating and emotional time of my life.

Right after I wrapped up a heart-warming family photo shoot on the evening of June 14, I looked at my cell phone to see several texts and voicemails waiting for me.  A gut feeling told me something was wrong.  Terribly wrong.

Soon after, my instinct turned out to be my worst nightmare: “Your mom has liver cancer.”

Those 5 words instantly flipped my world upside down and inside out.

Those words kept echoing louder and louder, as I screamed even louder: no…no…..NO.  There was NO WAY it was possible.

My mom is the epitome of health.  She was already eating seaweed, ginseng and organic fruits long before the days of Whole Foods + Trader Joe’s.  She drinks green tea instead of alcohol.  She works out, volunteers and travels.  Some of her gifts to us include a juicer, foot massage machine, aloe face masks and vitamins.  Nearly every phone call ends with a health tip: “Eat more purple grapes.” “Don’t drink too much coffee.” “Look into getting acupuncture.” “Make sure you’re sleeping enough.” “Wash your veggies.”  How could this be happening?

Every breath was hard to breathe.  An hour seemed to last forever.  Each step got heavier.

My brain went blank, my heart raced and I didn’t know what to do.

The one thing I did know was that I needed to hug my mom.

With the help of my rock solid husband Matt, studio sidekicks Micah + Alicia, friends and angels along the way, I dropped everything and hopped on the first flight to San Antonio.  Everything happened so fast that my mom didn’t even know I was flying in!  My sister Jessica picked me up, drove me straight to our parents’ home and I collapsed on top of her.  There were hardly any words exchanged.  Simply tears, love and the longest hug we’ve ever had.

I made up my mind right then + there that cancer would NOT break our spirits.  We would stay strong, be positive, remain feisty and lean on God.  After all, that’s how our mom raised us.

Easier said than done.  From that point, the moments that followed were some of the worst and some of the best.

Low point: Bad talking a no-bedside-manner doctor who stood with his arms crossed and spewed out a ton of stats.

High point: Hugging incredible doctors and nurses who sat with us, talked with us, checked in on us and recommended a chaplain to pray with us.

Low point: Twisting my body onto a tiny rock-hard recliner, so I could try to sleep in my mom’s hospital room.

High point: Squeezing into her hospital bed and cuddling for hours.

Low point: Wanting to crash my car into a guardrail.  Dark?  Yes.  But I’m keeping it real here.  Cancer does some insane things to your mind even when you’re not the “patient.”

High point: Driving my mom everywhere, as she constantly complained about my lack of direction and parking skills.  It’s the first time I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her loud nagging.

Low point: Doing research to buy the domain (FYI: it’s still available)

High point: Scouring the Internet for healthy recipes to make sure she was eating the best cancer-fighting foods out there.

More high points: Morning stretches on my parents’ patio, family worship + prayers, eating tomatoes from my mom’s cute corner garden, chopping off all of my mom’s hair for a sassy + liberating look, shopping for fun hats, looking through old photos and taking new family photos.

BEFORE cancer: Life was fast-moving, life was full of love, life was GOOD.

AFTER cancer: I’ve come to the realization that it’s nearly the same as before.  Life is still fast, still filled with love and still REALLY REALLY GOOD.  The most profound change is that I treasure my family even more than I knew was humanly possible.  And I know that anything is possible.

“With man, this is impossible, but not with God.  All things are possible with God.” ~ Mark 10:27

A very special thank you to our dear friend Brandi Sutherland for capturing these images for our family.

They do more than show our love and my mom’s bravery, they are healing to our hearts.

Even though I’m a photographer, I’m first + foremost a daughter who was so completely swamped with emotion that I didn’t even think of doing family photos at this time.  But Brandi did.

Thank you Brandi for not simply asking what you could do to help us.  Thank you for telling me that you wanted to make this photo shoot happen.  Thank you for clearing your schedule to fit ours.  Thank you for a priceless gift.

Micah - July 2, 2012 - 8:17 pm


Tears of sadness and tears of joy are streaming down my face. Thank you for being so honest about your life. You are BRAVE and AMAZING. Your family is in our prayers and in hearts – ALWAYS! Keep the faith girl. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE you!

Shelley Turk - July 2, 2012 - 8:25 pm

Cindy, this is so beautiful. I relate to this so much right now, except there’s no happy ending in my story. My dad has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I feel the craziest emotions all the time ! They are overwhelming at times. Thanks for putting some of these emotions into words for me.

Michelle Chenoweth - July 2, 2012 - 8:26 pm

I really hope you know I am here in any way you need…these thoughts, and feelings are so familiar. I have been in agony for you, wondering how this must be affecting you all. Everyday I have given time to send positive, heartfelt, and loving thoughts and prayers out to surround you’re family with peace and comfort, and I am so happy to know you’ve chosen to take the reigns in this battle! I love you my friend :)

Trish - July 2, 2012 - 8:30 pm

Cindy –
What beautiful pictures and even more beautiful words. About two sentences in tears streamed down my cheeks. Your mother has done a fabulous job raising you and Jess and bringing a bright influence to us all. There are many people praying for God’s healing power. Stay strong and know we are here for you. Thank you for sharing. Lots of love – Trish

Trisha - July 2, 2012 - 8:30 pm

What a beautiful post! The tears are flowing right now. Hugs, prayers and love to your family. So glad you could be together.

Carol Obenhoff - July 2, 2012 - 8:45 pm

So beautifully said….always remember that you don’t ever have to o thru this alo ne…we are all here for you and we love you Very much!!!

Jen - July 2, 2012 - 8:50 pm

Cindy i was on Facebook today and was thinking…. where is Cindy? Where are her funny… silly…. random… posts and all those gorgeous photos that inspire me every day…. Crazy how life happens… I then am on Facebook tonight and see this post from you about your mom and i just melt and feel so saddened. Your honesty and bravery are admired so and your mom is the luckiest lady in the world to have you, your sister and her husband by her side. Positive thoughts and prayers are being sent your way. Love ya.

Amanda - July 2, 2012 - 9:11 pm

Jen is right. Your mom is so lucky to have you and your sister fighting for her. You and Jess are such beautiful, strong and thoughtful women. Your parents did well. Cherish all your moments with your mom and family. Show the world what it means to love one another and be a family. Our family is here if y’all need anything.
Sweeney Family

Rosi Williams - July 2, 2012 - 9:29 pm

Sending thoughts and prayers to you and your family. So grateful that you can all be together at this time.
Stay Strong,
Rosi Williams

peggy ray - July 2, 2012 - 9:46 pm

God chose you for your Mom … and He chose her just for you.
How Great is our God!
Thanks for sharing her with all of us.
You are on my mind and in my prayers.

Kelly Kuntz - July 2, 2012 - 10:04 pm

What a beautiful and honest post. I’m sending you, your mom, and family lots of healing prayers!

Sarah - July 2, 2012 - 10:17 pm

Many prayers for you and your family. It seems like it was just yesterday, and then again it seems like forever ago that we dealt with my dads cancer. I only wish we had captured some happy family time to look back on and cherish, like the photos you have. What an amazing way to bring healing to a hitting family. Much love.

Corinna Dahlin - July 2, 2012 - 10:36 pm

Gorgeous group!!! I LOVE that you got to be on the other end of the camera with such beautiful people Cindy! I’m so proud of you, as a person, for embracing this time with your momma. Some forget, in this busy world, what truly matters but not you. I imagine that the surprise hug from you and memories of your trip will get her through any challenges that she may face in the future. Well that and God. ;) I’m praying for all of you! PLEASE let me know if I can help in any way. Love you!

Susan Parker - July 2, 2012 - 11:29 pm

Life is such a gift❤What a beautiful family❤❤❤It seems very difficult to find words so I will send lots of hugs and love your way.Thank you for posting this, it reminds all of us what matters in life. All of you take care and know that you are in our prayers❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤

Rita Lott - July 3, 2012 - 12:36 am

Thank you for sharing such a personal journey with us. As I read your words, I got the chills, thinking how I would react if I had received the news and it would have been much the same – NO WAY and I would be devestated. I could picture you collapasing into a hug upon seeing your mom as that is exactly what I would do. The love between a mother and her childern can not be put into words. I think it’s one of the strongest forces on earth. With all your and your family’s love, prayers, ability to see the positive and laugh along with treatment, you have much power and I’ll be praying for the absolute best outcome. Awww, thank you for sharing the beautiful family photos. Love you, Cindy and may comfort, peace be more abundant in this uncertain journey for you and your family.

Jessica Rizzo Montagliani - July 3, 2012 - 7:02 am

Ohhh Cindy and Jess…I had no idea you were going through this battle right now. This has made me a mess reading this and going through these pictures. Your Mom is the most spunky, uplifting, sweetest person and she will fight this. I will be praying everyday for her and your family and through God EVERYTHING is possible! You have such an amazing Family and I have always loved you all!!!! Praying sooo hard you will get through this!!! Love you lots! Jessica

Skye - July 3, 2012 - 8:10 am

Oh Cindy! This is more than a touching post…what a tribute to the relationship you have with your mom. SHE is beautiful as are you for opening this little window. I’m rooting for all the strength in the world for you and your family on this journey. Fortune favors the brave, friend, and it’s obvious you’ve all mastered the act of bravery. Hugs to you!

Nicole McAdam - July 3, 2012 - 8:33 am


Reading your post today was so inspiring! Inspiring to pray. Inspiring to have more faith. Inspiring to cherish. I am so blessed to hear that God is holding you up strong, and bringing you comfort through this time! Thank you for letting us walk with you, and thank you for being so vulnerable. I am praying for you and your family! May God continue to bless you more than you could ever imagine! Love you lady!

Elizabeth - July 3, 2012 - 8:46 am

I ran across your photos through Brandi’s page since she has done a photo shoot for us. I wanted to send you my prayers your way and will continue to have your family in my prayers. I know that we don’t know each other but it’s times like these when anyone can use prayers from anybody. My family has gone through cancer and we lost a loved one so I know exactly how the feelings of emotions run through your mind. May God give you strength each day and send an Angel to have by your mother’s side to guide her along the road. God Bless.

terry eklund - July 3, 2012 - 9:01 am

Cindy thank you so much for sharing this. thank you for keeping it real. I can’t imagine how difficult this all is, but it is so good to see all of you smile – even your dad. we love you all and are praying fervently for her healing.
keep us posted, as much on you, Jess and your dad as on your mom. Im thankful for the times we’ve had with all of you and looking forward to more.

Josette - July 3, 2012 - 9:23 am

A few days ago, while packing for our summer vacation in northern Minnesota, I realized something was missing. Something that I enjoy very much. What I was missing was that connection with you through your Instagram, your Facebook posts, your blog and your photos. When I realized you had totally dropped off the face of social media, I went digging around and traced your last activity to June 14. I told Shane something has happened in Cindy and Matt’s world. Something big I’m afraid. I’m worried. Then I waited. And this morning, I saw a post from you and I knew. My heart sunk. What was going on I wondered. Now I know. Your post is so beautiful, so true, so raw. And then the photos to follow your strong, perfect words, just made it all come together in a very honoring, personal journey you’ve begun with your Mom. I pray that she will BE the miracle of complete healing, and that God has chosen her story of healing to glorify His name, so that you will have many, many years ahead with her. And as Philippians 4:13 says… She can do all this through HIM who gives her strength.
We love you guys!! xoxoxo Josette

Bethann McGregor - July 3, 2012 - 9:29 am

Love your family photos. I am sure they will always bring back bittersweet feelings; but mostly they will remind you of the love and strength of family. You will cherish them forever. I will keep your mom and your family in my prayers.

Deirdre - July 3, 2012 - 10:16 am

Dear Cindy,
You are so special. Thank you for sharing this beautiful
sensitive time. Your family glows with love. We will all form
a collective love to surround you.
Thinking of you each day.
Love, Deirdre

Tina Hart - July 3, 2012 - 10:42 am

Beautiful words & beautiful photos, Cindy. You and your family are in our thoughts.

Take care of yourself & your family…

Tina, Chriss, Chris, Jordan, Max & Sophie…. :)

Michele Wandke - July 3, 2012 - 11:04 am

At a time where I have been feeling that my life couldn’t be spinning more out of control, I read your beautiful blog and it shocked me back into realizing what is real. Thank you, Cindy, for sharing this very personal journey with all of us! My familiy’s thoughts, love and prayers are with you and your family. God bless

Nicholas - July 3, 2012 - 11:41 am

Cindy and Jessica my prayers are for strength and love, my tears are for peace and joy. I couldn’t imagine the feelings your going through yet what you wrote was an inspiration for me to share my love or my family thank you

Gail Carter - July 3, 2012 - 11:43 am

Your words and these pictures are a wonderful tribute to your mother and your family. You have touched so many lives with YOUR love and generosity, know that all of us are thinking of you, praying for you, and there for you. Hopefully that you will give you and your mom added strength and super powers as you face this challenge! LOVE YOU!

Mia - July 3, 2012 - 11:54 am

WOW girl. You are very brave for posting all of this! It made me laugh, then cry, and warmed my heart. Thanks for being you and for being real. I’m so happy you did this shoot and I can see Tae Sizzle’s feisty spirit in every image!!! LOVE YOU TONS + TONS!!!!!!!!

Jamie - July 3, 2012 - 12:20 pm

Cindy, we’ve never met but I’ve been following your work ever since M+M’s engagement shoot in Vermont. I cannot imagine how hard it was to write that blog post, and I am thankful that you did. I’ll be thinking of you and your family, and I just wanted to thank you for inspiring me again with your spirit. Stay strong!

ak - July 3, 2012 - 12:50 pm

wow, what an incredibly touching post. your mom is in my prayers! she must be so, so proud of you.

Kathy Carlisle - July 3, 2012 - 1:10 pm

Today is a new day. I am a new me:) I love you and I know that this is going to be a beautiful journey…nowhere in there, did I say easy:( Keep the gratitude flowing and continue to sit with ALL the emotions that flood in. You will never be alone in this. Hang in there! Love, K

Dana c - July 5, 2012 - 12:33 am

Beautiful, real words Cin. Incredible family photos that shows the love you all have for one another. I love you girl. Hugs and love to mom. Many prayers for you all.

Chungsoon Lim - July 5, 2012 - 4:49 pm

What a beautiful pictures and you’re emotional moment writing about you and your family….I’m so glade you and Jessica are my niece. There are may people parying for God’s healing power for your Mom to stay strong and know we are here for you and your family.
I’m sending thoughts and prayers to you and your family, specially this time your Mom…….
We always love you all!!!!

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