A baby giggles at the timeless chant of “peek-a-boo” and hearts melt. Click. Click.
A young girl smiles brightly as she envisions herself a princess. Bald head, no matter. Click. Click.
A teen boy remains stoic (upholding the universal code of all teen boys) until his mother hugs him. Gentle smiles unfold across both faces. Click. Click.
These are just a few of the “Flashes of Hope” that Sandra Montgomery and her team of six volunteers have captured on camera since 2006.
Since she founded Akron Children’s Hospital’s chapter of Flashes of Hope six years ago, 84 cancer and palliative care patients and their families have been treated to professional black-and-white portrait sessions.
Each family receives a leather-bound box containing two 8 x 10 portraits, a proof sheet and a CD of all the photo images free of charge.
“Flashes of Hope is really two gifts in one,” said Jen Greulich, who co-directs the chapter with Montgomery. “First, we give kids a fun experience to break up their day in the hospital and, then, a few weeks later, they receive the package of photos.”
The first Flashes of Hope chapter was founded in 2001 by Allison Clarke and her husband, Kip, during their son’s successful treatment for cancer at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.
When a friend her son had met through the hospital died of cancer, Allison’s thoughts focused on a singular idea. Given all that the boy’s family was going through, she wondered if they had taken the time to get a recent portrait of him – one that could be forever cherished.
Sandra has her own poignant story. She was driving her son, Brian, who was being treated for cancer at Akron Children’s, to a Flashes of Hope photo shoot in Cleveland when his illness took a turn for the worse.
She turned the car around and he was admitted to the hospital. He died without ever getting a final portrait taken. Sandra raised the $2,500 to start a chapter for Akron Children’s own patients in Brian’s memory.
Nationwide, there are now more than 55 chapters of Flashes of Hope with more than 30,000 portraits taken to date.
The Akron Children’s chapter, which includes volunteer photographers Dr. Leroy Dierker, Aaron Patterson and Tony Gray, Rhonda Spada and stylist Shannon Tisch, schedule monthly photo shoots at the hospital and offer the service to all hematology-oncology patients and palliative care patients who are interested.
“We feel very fortunate to have these dedicated volunteers willing to come to the hospital and take these beautiful photos,” said Dr. Jeffrey Hord, director of the Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders. “It’s very nice to document the journey – whatever the outcome.”
On their Nov. 11 photo shoot, the team reminisced about special moments. One teen was especially happy to have her pictures taken because her illness made her miss school on the days her class pictures were taken during the her sophomore, junior and senior years in high school.
“For girls, it’s all about the make-up, said Tisch. “I wanted to get involved the minute I heard about Flashes of Hope. This allows me to brighten a child’s life and use my skills beyond my career as a hair stylist.”
After the photo session, the Flashes of Hope team gathered around a small office off of the hospital’s fifth floor to dedicate a piece of artwork created by the Showers Center in appreciation of Flashes of Hope.
The faces of more than 50 patients – infants through young adults, a mix of survivors and victims of childhood cancer – are arranged to spell out a singular word – HOPE.