Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Making My Daughter Stronger

I met the Boggs/Burnett family while exploring Franklin, Missouri for a text story on small town post office closings. I spent two years photographing the family as my focus changed over time. When I met Shelia, the mother, she had just finished cancer treatment. She had returned to work and her life carried on as normal.

I initially photographed Lauren, the teenage daughter of the family, as she took on more responsibility at their family business Boggs Auto & Salvage. I didn't know I was shooting a cancer story until I noticed that Lauren and the rest of the family became anxious as time went on. Lauren was still making up school days from earlier that year and working extra hours at the junkyard while Shelia was avoiding doctors appointments until after the holidays. The type of cancer Shelia had was likely to reoccur when it did the family wanted me there to document it.

Working on this project really taught me how unpredictable stories can be because people's lives are unpredictable. It was such a privilege to spend time and get to know the Boggs/Burnett family.

Shelia Burnett works in her office at the family business, Boggs Auto Salvage & Sales, in Franklin, Mo. 

Story Summary:
They missed it. She had an eight-pound tumor on her kidney and they missed it. Shelia Burnett of New Franklin, Mo. was diagnosed with stage IV Renal cell carcinoma in May of 2011. Shelia's cancer reoccurred in her liver and is no longer curable. Burnett is preparing her family for her death.

“There’s a lot of times I ask myself why am I having to go through this? I don’t know why I am going through this other than making my daughter a stronger person.” said Burnett. Shelia Burnett’s daughter Lauren Burnett, 17, has stepped up to help her mother with chores at home and at their family business Boggs Auto Salvage and Sale.

According to a study by Kathryn E. Weaver, assistant professor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, rural cancer survivors reported more psychological distress, were more likely to be in fair or poor heath and unable to work because of a health condition than urban cancer survivors.

Burnett fears burdening her family with her emotion and she wishes there were more resources and support groups for people living in rural areas. “That’s part of a rural community we don’t have the resources a big city would have so you learn to use your family.”

Shelia Burnett and her daughter Lauren Burnett joke around in front of Boggs Auto Salvage and Sales in Franklin, Mo. “I don’t know why I'm going through this other than making my daughter a stronger person," Burnett said.

Shelia Burnett gets her temperature taken at Boone Hospital Center in Columbia, Mo. After she found out that her cancer had returned she went in to find out the severity of the results.

Shelia Burnett holds her husband Nelson Burnett's hand after receiving the news about the severity of the tumor. Burnett found out she would have to undergo surgery to remove the tumor. "We don’t have the resources that a big city would have so you learn to use your family and you use your network and support that you have around you," Burnett said.

Lauren Burnett folds laundry for the family at their home in New Franklin, Mo. Since her mother's illness has progressed Lauren picks up additional chores around the house. “Poor little Lauren I told her you’re going to have to step up to the plate because I don’t know what’s going to happen and she did. She just does an amazing job. She worked and she took on a big responsibility and I knew at that point she’s going to be ok if something does happen,” Burnett said.

The day after Lauren and her boyfriend break up she decides to perm her hair. Lauren's friend and the family sit in the living room together and help put curlers in her hair.

Lauren Burnett stands in front of the junkyard at Boggs Auto Salvage & Sales.

Shelia Burnett lays in a hospital bed with Lauren at her side awaiting surgery. The surgery will determine how long she has to live depending on how much of the tumor can be removed. "I just wish there was more support out there for people to go through this. I don’t want to burden my family with the emotion. I try to be strong for my family," Burnett said.

Shelia, Lauren and Nelson wait in the hospital before Shelia goes into surgery. Shelia finds out from the anesthesiologist that because of her type II diabetes and other health problems that the surgery is riskier. "I’ve got a really rough challenge ahead of me but I’m hoping that I can survive it and see my daughter graduate. I want to see her get married. I want to see her grandchildren,"
 Burnett said.

Shelia Burnett reaches into her bucket of pills. The surgery successfully removed her tumor but because of the nature of the cancer it could reoccur. Her hours working at the family business have dropped to less than once a week as she recovers . Shelia was able to see Lauren graduate from New Franklin High School in May. 

Click here to view the multimedia version of Making My Daughter Stronger

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