Photographer Maranie Staab has spent the past several years covering social justice and human rights issues, most recently capturing the protests for racial justice in Syracuse, Rochester, Portland (Oregon), and her native Pittsburgh. Another project close to her heart concerns something more solitary: the depiction of a young friend’s battle with cancer. —Jayne Ross
I first met Kaylee Marshfield in Syracuse, New York, in August 2018. I had recently moved there to attend graduate school in journalism, and my first assignment was to ‘find a story’ at the New York State Fair. In my first hour at the fair, I saw Kaylee and her family; it was evident that the young girl was not well, as she was near-bald and very thin. After talking with them for a while, I asked if it would be okay to spend more time with them, in order to get to know them better and to document their experience, and they agreed. We ended up spending the rest of that week together at the fair, and our relationship grew from there. In hindsight, making the decision to go and talk with the family helped shape my next two years of graduate school and allowed me a precious opportunity to learn from Kaylee.
This picture was taken in October 2018, at Kaylee’s elementary school. While much of her first-grade class enjoyed a carefree recess, Kaylee chose not to join in. Though she is often outgoing and smiling, Kaylee regularly prefers to be alone with her thoughts. At the same time, she has been ostracized by her peers—she was bullied for losing her hair. In addition to having to navigate the physical ramifications of cancer and chemotherapy, she also suffered the social and emotional effects. When I asked her after school that day how she felt, Kaylee simply responded, ‘I feel alone.’
Kaylee and her family recently celebrated two years of Kaylee’s being in remission. Though I no longer live nearby, I hope to keep in touch with them for as long as they will have me around. The photographs I’ve taken of her show the tragedy of her disease but also her humor, sass, intelligence, and courage. Her ongoing trust has taught me the value of slowing down and of pursuing intimate, long-term work. While I was in school, Kaylee kept me grounded and in touch with my own inner child, something I hadn’t known I needed so badly.
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