I learned early on in business that choices have to be made when volunteering or donating time. I used to fall for the "Great Exposure" line but quickly learned that there is no such thing. So I made decision to volunteer and donate ONLY to the causes or projects I feel passionately about. So when I volunteer, I do it with an open heart ...and quietly. With a whisper. I may tell people that I will be at this or that function capturing this or that but I won't really talk about it after. The reason - if I can bring one additional person to that cause to help by saying something prior, then great! But I'm not going to make a show of volunteering after. In my personal life, I prefer to be that quiet person in the corner (not in a creepy way). 2015 taught me that sometimes a whisper can be as loud as a roar. It also taught me that there will be times when my personal and business life are going to cross lines.
Last year, I met a couple of beautiful women while we were all volunteering for a childhood cancer organization. I was photographing the red carpet while they were at a table behind me selling ceramic bowels. We started to chat (I'm pretty sure I made some joke about them peddling pot) and of course with small talk, we got around to saying why we were there. I found out that they do great work for The American Cancer Society and I had let them know (in my whisper voice) that if they ever needed my help, to let me know. I should probably have clarified that statement when I said it. What I meant to say was if you ever need an event photographed, let me know. I then let them know why I was there - I have a need to give back and I've lost two family members from Cancer. My sister from lung cancer, my dad from Breast Cancer. It just so happens that one of the wonderful ladies is the Manager of Making Strides Against Breast Cancer (Phoenix) and she immediately told me she would utilize my services! Again, what I meant to say was....
She wanted me to come speak at her kickoff breakfast. Just me, her and about 600 of her closest friends. She wanted me to tell my Dad's story. At this point, I should have said..."What I meant to say was.." because I was extending the offer as Tonia Johnston Photography but the words were already out! I am not one to go back on my word. I could not reach out and shove the words back in my mouth. I could not turn around and act like I didn't hear her. I could not push her into the pot table and run screaming. All I could say was send me the information and hope that she would forget about me. A friend request on Facebook the same night and an e-mail a couple of days later showed me that apparently, I am unforgettable.
I knew I was going to do this but the struggle was real. My family is pretty private and I didn't know how my siblings would feel about my getting up in public and talking about how our Dad died. I didn't know how I would feel because our story is so personal. I didn't know if I could fit what I had to say in 4 minutes. I didn't know if people would receive what I was saying. For years I would not tell anyone how Dad died because of "the look." Confusion, shock, disbelief when hearing the words man and breast cancer in the same sentence. I did not want 600 faces looking at me like that. I didn't know if I could even get through a speech without some sort of breakdown. Because of "the look", I stopped talking about Dad. Because of "the look" I stuffed my feelings and was stuck on pause, not able to move forward.
I reminded myself that when I first found out Dad had breast cancer, I could not find any information about it on the internet. I reminded myself how angry I was when I went to the Doctors office and would give my history, they would tell me not to worry about breast cancer. I told myself that my Dad gave his everything to help people in his community and that through our story, we could possibly, just maybe help one person. Maybe a daughter, son, wife would not be blindsided by this diagnosis. I had sat with this information & pain for 12 years. It was time to spread the word.
I gave that speech in August. I was terrified - not about being in front of so many people, but afraid my message would not be recieved. I legs were shaking so bad all I could think was, I hope those people standing by the edge of the stage can't see this. My friend was correct when she said it was me, her and 600 of her friends. I cannot describe the feeling of being in a room of like-minded people who just want to do good. Who were not there for themselves but for something bigger than all of us. Who were willing to step away from the everyday hustle and bustle and come together to educate, learn and give back. To be in a room full of people who not only listened to me talk about my Dad but who cried with me. I still have a long way to go with dealing with my Dad being taken but this was a step forward in healing.
Photo Credit goes to either Right Toyota's photographer OR Everado Keeme Photography
I could have backed out when given the chance. I could have clarified my statement when initially asked. But I have always believed that if you can't honor your word, you have nothing and I believe in walking through my life with integrity. I know now, that some things are not meant to be whispered and stories are meant to be shared. I've learned that you can't stand in a corner and hope that someone sees you, you have to walk out into the light to be seen.
So why now? Why bring my personal side over to my business? My business is more than taking pretty pictures. My business is about empowering & helping people. Male Breast Cancer is real. I believe it will continue to be a silent killer among our men if the words are not said. So here I type, hoping to empower and help just one more person.