Lisa + Dan Coghlan | Terminal Illness | Coghlan Strong

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It’s funny how social media works, and how it brings people back into your lives. I kind of love that, because without it I wouldn’t have had the chance to hear about Lisa and Dan’s amazing story about love, brain cancer, hospice, strength and grace, as well as photograph them and their crazy brood of amazing kiddos. Lisa and I have known each other since grade school, and you know how after school is over, you kind of lose track of each other? Well, because of social media, we reconnected and have seen each other’s families grow and share our stories together. That’s just so COOL!!

When my son Noah was born, I was only 23 years old, and he was 1lb 6 ounces when he was born. I mean, he was this tiny peanut, and even though I felt worldly (who doesn’t at 23, LOL?!), I was really a scared kid with a baby who had so many complications. That time after he was born, I had so much love and support, and it was then that I realized how important it is to help people who are in need. I needed people, Noah needed people and the people that helped me through that uncertain and scary time still remain on my heart.

The one huge regret I have is that I have no professional photos of my son for his first six months of life. At the time, it was all such a blur, and there was no hospital photographer who wanted to take photos of my tiny baby hooked up to tubes and wires. The few photos that I do have don’t capture what I remember...how beautiful he was. What a fighter he was. It doesn’t matter how scary it may look to someone on the outside; even if a baby is a tiny preemie or stillborn, every mother wants a memory of their child when they are born. Every mother deserves that.

When I became a photographer, I knew I wanted to be there to take the photos that NO ONE ELSE wanted to because ALL PEOPLE MATTER. When people have illnesses, people often turn the camera away from them because they feel like they don’t want photos of them “when they don’t look like themselves.” I think that does a disservice to them. When your appearance changes, your heart does not. People don’t love you less when you are sick, and children certainly don’t.

Dan and Lisa married in 2015 and BAM; they were on the fast track to having those beautiful babies! When I showed up to photograph their family, the scene was like pretty much every other family with three kids...chaotic...lol. Their kids are fun, full of life, crazy, rough and tumble, funny, loving and all the things 3 kids under the age of 4 can be (Seriously, GOD BLESS YOU, Lisa...LOL) I mean, mommin’ ain’t easy when you have lots of littles, and since Lisa is Dan’s full-time caretaker that means her plate is even more full.

Though it all, with his head held high, Dan has undergone SIX brain surgeries and countless hospital visits for chemo to fight his brain cancer. At this point the cancer has spread and treatment is no longer an appropriate option, he is currently on hospice and everyone is still praying for a miracle for their hero.

Mostly, Lisa and Dan are a normal family. Their daily reality may be different, but their goal for their kids is the same as anyone else. They want their kids to be kids, to be resilient, and to know they are loved. Dan has never played the pity card and has faced his illness with a grace that I cannot imagine. His kids don’t see someone who is sick; they just see their dad. It’s so important that they see photos of him while he’s here on this earth because his life matters.

Riley, the oldest, takes her role as daddy’s girl seriously, and her status as Queen Bee is undisputed. She’s the secondary caretaker string, seeming to notice everything. You can see how smart she is, how perceptive she is, and that she’s going to be much like her mom. Brody is the adventure boy, the wild child, the kid who never met a puddle he didn’t like, but behind that mischievous glint in his eyes is the heart of a love bug. Harper, who is only two, is the comedian, the “go with the flow” kid, Dan’s little sunshine, and the dancing queen. She’s the kid who walks in and sees Riley and Brody fighting over something and quietly steals it away from both of them with no fanfare. These kids are just so hilarious!! I loved every moment I spent with them.

Grace. Patience. Love. Lisa personifies all of these things. While she is always quick to point out that she couldn’t do this without Dan’s quiet dignity and the help of friends and family, she’s the glue. She’s the bedrock of their family, and she doesn’t just believe that life is what you make of it, she lives it, every single day. She believes that her life with Dan is worth every moment, and you can tell he feels the same.

Lisa and Dan, thank you for allowing me to photograph your family. Thank you for being willing to show that even when people are facing a life-changing illness, they should leave a legacy for their children through photographs of them. I’m so proud and honored to have made these photos of your kids so that someday you can look back and remember every moment...even the crazy ones when we couldn’t get Brody out of that mud puddle! Thank you for being willing to be on the other side of the camera to show people that family love is everything.

Coghlan Strong