Las Vegas Sun

September 23, 2014

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Photographer giving families fighting cancer something to remember

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Brian Nordli

Jana Cruder began offering free portraits to families fighting cancer in 2010, after the death of her mother. Pictured is the Buehler family: Felix, Shareece and Miles. Felix Buehler has incurable lung cancer.

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The Buehlers wait to have their photo taken by Jana Cruder on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. From left are Miles, Felix and Shareece.

Felix Buehler put off his scheduled chemotherapy to conserve energy for his family’s first family portrait Saturday.

One year ago he was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer. Doctors told him the best he could hope for was that the chemotherapy and surgery would delay the inevitable.

Every day has become a fight to maintain a semblance of normalcy during a chaotic time, and this portrait scored a hit for feeling normal. His wife, Shareece, set up the photo shoot after seeing a flyer offering a free portrait for cancer patients and their families from professional photographer Jana Cruder.

“For me it’s just documenting our family,” Shareece Buehler said. “Despite what he’s fighting, this is still our family. I’m so excited that we get to document it, and he’s healthy enough to do it. This could have been very different.”

The Buehlers were one of 18 families battling cancer that signed up for Cruder’s “Something To Remember” charity event on Saturday. Families were treated to free styling from makeup artists and hairstylists, snacks and a professional portrait.

“Today a lot of people are really proud to be here,” Cruder said. “They’re surviving; they’re fighting, they’re really using this as opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I look good, feel good, and I am proud to be living with cancer.’”

Cruder began “Something to Remember” in 2010, after her mother passed away from breast cancer. She decided she wanted to give back to the cancer community, but she wanted to do something more immediate than making a donation.

That’s when she noticed how few photos she had of her mom as her cancer progressed. Cruder decided she could put her photography skills to use to make sure other families didn’t face the same issue.

“As I put together video, I saw this very obvious regression of family portraits and images in general,” Cruder said. “For me, the most important thing when a loved one passes, especially after having cancer so long, is what you have left behind.”

This is the second year the Los Angeles-based photographer has held the event in Las Vegas. Each event is reliant on donations to pay for the food and location. Cruder said the best part is knowing she gave a family a lasting memory they will always be able to look back on fondly.

“There was a mother and daughter here (earlier), and (the mother) had stage-four thyroid cancer,” Cruder said. “Just watching her daughter look at her, it’s like ... that’s going to be something, if her mother passes, that will mean so much to her.”

The Buehlers arrived, along with their 6-year-old son, Miles, dressed in white button-down dress shirts, unsure of what to expect. Felix Buehler said he worried it was going to be “cheesy,” but his fears disappeared as Cruder began taking their photos.

It was more than just a one-shot, assembly-line producing portraits. Cruder directed them through different poses, from looking at each other, to kissing, to dressing up in top hats, giant glasses and holding a blow-up microphone. Each pose brought out the goofiness and love they held for each other.

Along with the black-and-white photo of all three of them looking forward and smiling, the Buehler's took home a disc of all the images Cruder shot.

“It was more than what I thought it would be. It made us feel special,” Shareece Buehler said of the day. “I don’t even know the right word to describe it, you just feel special.”

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