Last fall a close friend introduced me to Suleika Jaouad, a well spoken, beautiful woman on a 100 day road trip around the United States. She was finally in remission from a battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia that began when she was a 22 year old student, just a few months after graduating from Princeton University. Over the course of her treatment, Suleika turned to writing as an outlet to describe the experience of what it means to be young and living with a life-threatening illness. Her writings soon developed into a column in the New York Times titled Life Interrupted. Through her column Suleika developed a community of followers including fellow survivors, people dealing with a vast array of different life interruptions, and admirers. Now a healthy 27 year-old, she was on the road to visit some of the people who had responded to her column. She hoped to learn more about how they were moving forward from their own life interruptions as she attempted to do the same.
Suleika and I spent the day together, she came to my studio and photographed me in the space. We walked around the city and spoke about everything and nothing at the same time - it was comfortable and genuine, sweet time together. We talked about her battle with cancer and she described how thankful she was for the people she was traveling to visit. She was honest with me and I felt comfortable being honest back. It was hard to picture her suffering so badly when she was such a warm and positive person. We talked about our enormous love for our dogs, and how her sweet boy, Oscar,had saved her from the anxieties of life post-cancer. Most remarkably though was Suleika’s deep appreciation for the women in her life. Through her battle with leukemia that Suleika developed a deeper appreciation for her dark hair, ethnic skin, and her eccentric, artistic mother. When friends dropped away during her illness, she surrounded herself with the love and support of a new community of young women with cancer who were true to who they were and had no qualms about delving into the vulnerable and the unknown. It was these women that inspired her to invest in herself and to be proud of who she was -- with or without hair, with or without her health. Relationships like these are what inspire me to produce the work that I do, and it is testimonies such as Suleika’s that remind me of the pride I hold in the bond of womanhood.