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March 25. 2013 6:31PM

At ChaD, another reason to smile and have hope

Seven-year-old Leah George of Nashua has a portrait taken by Manchester photographer Catharine Morris during a Flashes of Hope photo shoot at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Lebanon. (MEGHAN PIERCE PHOTO)

LEBANON - "Keep dancing. You're a good dancer," photographer Catharine Morris says to four-year old Cailin Culhane during a Flashes of Hope photo-shoot at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

Cailin was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia three and a half weeks ago.

"We have been living here at ChaD ever since. And she lost her hair just two days ago. Really it all just came out. Really this is really great timing," said mom Liesl Hasenfuss of Henniker, somewhat sarcastically.

Wednesday was the first day Cailin was well enough to walk around the hospital and was surprised to find her destination, a playroom, transformed into a photo studio.

She was a little timid at first, but after Morris and Laura Jacobi, the founder of the Northern New England Chapter of Flashes of Hope, convinced the avid dancer they were having a dance party she stared bopping around the room.

Cailin's spirit has even soothed her mother's sadness over the chemo-induced hair loss.

"The first time she looked in the mirror she said, 'oh, I don't like that,' but after that she's like, 'here she is.' We've a lot to learn from kids. That it's not really as big of a deal as we make it out to be. She is still who she is. She is smiling, having fun, joyful, loving life," Hasenfuss said.

In 2010, Jacobi, who's from Springfield, founded and became tdirector of the Northern New England Chapter of Flashes of Hope, which visits ChaD about every two months to offer free photo shoots with professional photographers to children with a cancer diagnosis or who have a blood disorder.

The chapter serves not only children in New Hampshire, but children in Maine and Vermont as well.

In 2012 Northern New England Flashes of Hope provided about 300 photo shoots, with about a third of those were at ChaD.

The family gets prints from the shoot and a digital copy of all photos taken. There is never any charge to the families, Jacobi said.

The hospital refers patients to Flashes of Hope.

"It's been amazing," said Jennifer Rupp, CHaD child life specialist.

"The families love it. They will change their schedule if they can change it to a picture day. It's been a great thing and it's been nice to be able to have families come up and have their child's picture taken when they don't have any hair and come back and now they have hair again. It's been really nice to kind of track their journey through photos."

The pictures mean different things to different people, to some it's the last set of professional pictures of their child and to others it's a way to mark how far they have come in their recovery, Jacobi said.

"It feels so small," Jacobi said, but the impact is huge.

Hasenfuss said under her circumstances, having portrait photographs taken of her daughter is not something she would think of, let alone have the time or money for.

"This is so great that they do this. It's really a great opportunity," she said. "This is my world living here making sure we get through this. Yeah, it's not something that would have crossed my mind, but won't it be a wonderful thing to have."

Recalling Cailin dancing and jumping around during the photo shoot, she added, "It's awesome and it's just that memory that there is so much joy even in the midst of this."

When 11-month-old Ashlynn Wain was diagnosed with a cancer her mother Stephanie was grateful that she and her husband had health insurance, and she focused on what she had to do for her daughter.

This included bi-weekly 200 mile-round trip drives from their Deerfield home to Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Lebanon.

Up until then Wain had been a typical first-time mom documenting her first born through photographs and had even started a blog to share photos of Ashlynn with family members.

"I'm a huge picture person," Wain said.

This was before Ashlynn was diagnosed with a tumorous growth in her groin area. Surgery removed the growth. Doctors followed up with 48 chemotherapy treatments.

Having professional pictures taken of her daughter was not something Wain had time to think about. "It's one of those things when you're going through something like that you don't think about taking your kid to get pictures or if you do for a second it's not something you actually have time for and don't follow through with it."

And between missing work and driving to Lebanon twice a week it was not something the family had the money for.

"Our extra money was filling my gas tank," Wain said. "The thought hadn't even crossed my mind."

But on one 12-hour chemo filled day for Ashlynn at CHaD, a Flashes of Hope photo shoot was taking place and Wain was asked if she wanted photos taken.

Initially Wain didn't want to participate.

Ashlynn wasn't even wearing any cute clothes and she was actually hooked up to chemo," Wain said.

But they did it anyway and Wain is so glad.

Flashes of Hope visits CHaD every two months so Ashlynn had two more photo shoots after that.

The portraits are treasured family photos hanging together in their home. It's a reminder to the family how lucky they are and how beautiful their daughter is even when she had lost her wild red hair to chemo.

"Honestly, Flashes of Hope, it's just what you need at that time. This is your daughter, she might not have any hair, but it doesn't matter," Wain said.

Ashlynn will be three in July. She is cancer free, but visits CHaD every three months for check-ups.

This week Ashlynn was very excited because her hair is now long enough for a one-inch pony tail, Wain said.

The little girl who inspired Jacobi to start the Northern New England Chapter lost her battle with cancer. Jacobi said she considers her the true founder of the Northern New England Chapter.

You can learn more about flashes of hope at www.flashesofhope.org.


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