Children Battling Serious Illnesses Launch Photography Program

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
Children Battling Serious Illnesses Launch Photography Program

Gracey Melon spends most of her time at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital receiving chemotherapy as she fights acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It has not been fun in the hospital for her and her family, except for a few days when she was in the spotlight as the star of her own photo shoot.

These modeling sessions for 12-year-old Gracey and other children and teenagers are organized by Flashes of Hope, a volunteer organization that creates fun, poignant portraits of patients. Conducted by top photographers in the Chicago area, the photo sessions capture the beauty and bravery of each patient when they are seriously ill.

Comer Children's Hospital is the only hospital in Illinois to have visits from Flashes of Hope. This group of dedicated volunteers, including organizers, hair stylists, make-up artists, and photographers, recently began donating their time and skills. Flashes of Hope comes to the children's hospital once a month to offer its free services to patients who love to pose for the camera. The organization strives to help patients feel better about their appearances by preparing them for the photographs and giving them extraordinary keepsake photos.

Gracey struck several poses by herself, then with her mom and dad, Pam and Bill. She even hammed it up with a feather boa, floral bandana, and her strand of beads that represent the procedures she has undergone to fight her cancer.

“This is very good for kids with cancer to have a day where they can feel like they look good and can be a movie star,” Gracey said.

Friends and family are welcome to join, posing for the photos to immortalize a close-knit group of patients and their supporters during trying times.


"Flashes of Hope is a real treat for our patients and some families have done multiple sittings," said John Cunningham, MD, chief of pediatric hematology/oncology at Comer Children's Hospital. "These photo sessions let children and their families escape for a while from their difficult time in the hospital. Their portraits are really striking and beautiful—their personalities really shine through."

Often, patients may not look their best during medical treatment. Stylists help the "models" prepare for their shoot with tasteful make-up and lipstick that help to even out and brighten up their skin tones. For children with hair loss due to chemotherapy, stylists help them choose a hip hat or wig. Sometimes, patients proudly show their scalps.

Stylists also take care of parents who frequently spend days and sleep overnight at the hospital and may need a little help to look their best.

For Pam, Gracey's mom, having a relaxing and fun day with her daughter was a real treat. "These hospitalizations are so hard, especially for Gracey, but also for Bill and me. Sitting in a chair and having professional hair stylists and make-up artists make me look nice was wonderful. And we'll have beautiful portraits to remind us of this time forever," Pam said.

Barrie Dekker, co-director of Flashes of Hope's Chicago chapter, said her team smiles too when they see how much patients and families enjoy their session and appreciate the photos. "Transforming the hospital playroom into a photo studio every month, hearing the children giggle, and watching them ham it up for the camera truly warms your heart," she said.

Each family is presented with framed enlargements, proofs, and a CD of their photos at no cost.

Photographers with Flashes of Hope are credentialed by the American Society of Media Photographers, the country's leading association for photographers who create images for publication. They often have clients like Fortune 500 companies or celebrities like Michael Jordan. They donate their talents and materials to Flashes of Hope for the stars at Comer Children's Hospital who also deserve applause.