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Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014

Utah photographer donates her talents to children facing terminal illness

By Megan Christensen, Deseret News

Published: Tue, Aug. 12 7:00 a.m. MDT

 Millie Flamm snuggles with her stuffed elephant at Primary Children's Hospital. Millie passed away from Leukemia in June 2013.

Millie Flamm snuggles with her stuffed elephant at Primary Children's Hospital. Millie passed away from Leukemia in June 2013.

(Jennifer Fauset, Fauset Photography)

As a child, Jennifer Fauset loved to look at the picture of her 2-year-old self hanging in her grandfather’s office.

It gave her confidence, made her feel beautiful and eventually confirmed her decision to help other people feel beautiful by becoming a professional photographer whose company, Fauset Photography, is based in Salt Lake City.

While immortalizing wedding bliss has its perks, the most rewarding job for Fauset is photographing children facing terminal diseases — for free.

Fauset began her “Giving Back” project in 2010 when she was asked to take pictures of a boy undergoing chemotherapy.

She documented the heartbreaking process of shaving his hair and went on to take pictures of him declaring his wish with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

After that, she was hooked on helping.

“I started telling people if they knew any child with a terminal illness that I was more than happy to photograph their family for free,” Fauset said. “They already have so much to worry about, and I think the last thing on their mind is to go and spend money on pictures, especially with children.”

Many children don’t want pictures of themselves without their hair, but Fauset said that when they see pictures of other children in similar situations, it encourages them.

And although the hospital may not seem like the ideal environment for a photo shoot, Fauset’s talent brings out the personality and interests of each child.

“I’m with the kids for such a short amount of time, but I feel like when you photograph someone you see deeper into them,” Fauset said. “I really try to capture the soul of the person, not just what they look like.”

One of Fauset’s favorite clients was Millie Flamm, a 7-year-old girl who died as a result of leukemia in June 2013.

Millie was diagnosed when she was 4 years old and underwent treatment for two and a half years.

The same day the Flamms celebrated her last dose of treatment in 2012, a bone marrow test result informed the family that Millie's leukemia had returned.

Although the Flamms thoroughly researched different forms of treatment, Millie's body stopped responding to everything.

One day, while Millie was preparing for her first bone marrow transplant, Fauset met her dad at the hospital.

"I hadn't heard of Jen, but she asked my husband Brady if he was Millie's dad, and when he said, 'Yes,' she said she'd love to take pictures of Millie," said Amanda Flamm, Millie's mom.

Fauset photographed Millie dressed in her Justin Bieber T-shirt, and Amanda Flamm couldn't think of anything more fitting for her little girl.

"We got these pictures back, and they were the most beautiful images I’d ever seen," Flamm said. "They captured Millie and her personality, and you can just feel who she is through those pictures."

When Flamm learned that Millie's body wouldn't accept any more treatment, she knew she wanted Fauset to take more pictures, but this time of their whole family.

Flamm didn't tell Fauset of the grim prognosis, but she said Fauset seemed to understand.

"I wanted her to capture a moment in time that I knew I was going to lose," Flamm said. "The photo shoot brought us so much closer together as we were able to play and let the dog on the bed and just be us, and Jen was a fly on the wall. She wasn’t even posing us or telling what to do. She just captured us."

When Millie died, Flamm asked Fauset if she'd photograph the funeral.

“If you wanted to meet someone full of life, that was Millie,” Fauset said. “When I walked into her funeral, a lot of the pictures I’d taken were blown up huge and they were framed. Her mom has said they just cherish those photos, and that’s enough for me to do it over and over for people.”

Fauset also loved working with Cami Carver, Millie’s best friend who also had leukemia.

Cami was diagnosed in 2010 and fought for two and a half years before she was cancer-free.

Then, after being in remission for 11 months, the Carver’s learned the leukemia came back.

This time, it was more aggressive and required a bone marrow transplant.

With the help of a 29-year-old male donor, Cami received a bone marrow transplant and is cancer-free once again.

Although she’s doing well now, it was a tough journey.

Before she went through chemotherapy for the second time, Cami wanted to dye her hair with sunset colors.

“It was her way of making a hard thing positive,” mom Chelsea Carver said. “It made losing her hair fun because it was rainbow strands on her pillow instead of brown.”

The day before her hair was shaved off, Fauset captured the pinks, oranges and reds in Cami’s hair.

“I think that any person or child needs to feel good about themselves, and they need to see a really good picture of themselves, specially the kids with no hair,” Fauset said. “They still look so beautiful, and I hope when they look at the pictures they feel really beautiful.”

Carver said the photos Fauset took are a precious gift for their family.

“Photos are incredible to have, but when you’re going through that hardship, you don’t pull your camera out very often,” Carver said. “So to have someone come capture that for your family, it feels so good to look back at those pictures and say, ‘Look what we did.’”

Fauset also took pictures of the Carver family after Cami’s head was shaved.

Carver said having a professional picture of a child while he or she is bald helps show people what the child is going through.

One of Fauset’s photos of Cami even went viral.

“A lot of people come out of the woodwork to help when your kid gets cancer, but they usually help one time and then they’re done,” Carver said. “But Jen is the one person who’s been a constant for years. She continues to give back, and not very many established photographers would take the time to do that time and time again.”

Fauset said she is happy to photograph any child facing terminal illness for free.

“I walk away (from these photo shoots), and it revamps my love for life and it puts back into perspective what’s important,” Fauset said. “These kids are so vibrant and full of life, and it’s phenomenal to see their huge spirits.”

Megan Marsden Christensen writes for the Faith and Family sections. She recently graduated from BYU-Idaho with a bachelor's degree in communication.

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1. Poqui
Murray, UT,
Aug. 19, 2014

This story touched my soul. Thank you, thank you!