katie | healing

January 14, 2020

Some of the hardest blog entries for me to write are the ones I put off for the longest. Kind of like when you have a TON of work to do and all you want to do is take a little nap to avoid it for a little while… Anyone else? When I have a topic or a session that is hard for me to write about or share, they keep getting put to the back-burner. I love this family and this girl SO much and I hate what she’s been through over the past several months, so sharing hasn’t been something I’ve been itching to get to – even though I do love the way this session turned out.


Last year, my own family got a glimpse of what it is like to have a perfectly normal life one day and have everything turned upside down the next. My son was diagnosed with Perthes disease and within a very short time, he went from being super active, playing on the playground, and in gymnastics at least once a week to being on crutches daily and eventually in a wheelchair 24/7. As a mom, it was one of the hardest things I’ve personally been through. Emotionally it was tough, and learning to do life with a “disabled” child in a world that is absolutely NOT built for being in a wheelchair was one of the most eye-opening experiences we could have experienced. While we knew that our situation was temporary and would only last a couple of years (it ended up being only months), adjusting to life in a wheelchair wasn’t easy on any of us, which is just one of the many reasons Katie’s story is so near to my heart.

When Katie’s mom posted about her “headache that just would not go away” I, like most people, figured it was just a bad migraine. The events that unfolded over the next several days were incredibly overwhelming for her and her whole family, and honestly – for all of us watching from home as well. She shared her experience on her blog -> here <- and if you have a few minutes, I highly recommend reading it. Here, she describes the days leading up to brain surgery and the days after. She describes all the things she felt – emotionally and physically with her Chiari Malformation.


I’ve known Katie for a really long time. Her mom was my guidance counselor in middle school, and her dad was my favorite teacher in high school (sorry everyone else, but this should come as no surprise!). As I’ve grown into adulthood, I think less of them as “Mr. Walling and Mrs. Walling” and more of them as my friends – Lewis and Julie. I’ve done many musicals with Lewis, have had lots of intense conversations with Julie – gone to dinner at their home, and had their children babysit mine. Katie’s sister, Emily, was on my VERY FIRST A-Team… Before it even had a name. I’ve watched Katie grow from a very timid little girl to a kick-ass young adult with a powerful voice and an amazing sense of humor.

Katie is one of my Ultimate High School kids, which means we document every year of high school. We did her Freshman session last year and the photos turned out really fun and cool and I felt like they really showed off her personality. This year, when it came time to chat about Sophomore pics, Katie seemed super reserved about it. She was so excited last year… sending me pics of her outfit choices, talking to me about location ideas/etc. This year, I noticed that she wasn’t *IN* like she was before. She hadn’t even picked out outfits the week of the session… It was obvious that she was NOT feeling it, so I had an idea… If this moment in life is super hard and painful – emotionally and physically – why don’t we tap into it? I believe that healing through art is incredibly powerful, and it is important to feel *all the things*.

We decided to jump all in. I told her to bring everything from her hospital stay, all of her headbands that she wears to hide her scar, all of the stuff that reminds her of this crappy thing she’s going through… All of it.
And she did. Wheelchair, a volleyball (because stopping volleyball was sucky), prescriptions, headbands, hospital paraphernalia, poetry, art… Nothing was off limits.

We decided on a simple white backdrop and to really let the focus be on her + healing. I think it really worked, too. Katie and her mom trusted me to do my thing and I trusted them to let me and to be honest with me about how they were feeling.  What we created together was really cool. I loved how they turned out, and I know Katie and her family loved them too. She posted an update on her blog -> here <- that gives us some insight on where she is now with all of this and has some highlight images.

THANK YOU, Katie – Thank you for sharing your journey with me. Thank you for trusting me with all the emotions and for being vulnerable with me. Here’s to HEALING —  physically and emotionally.



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