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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Smiling Eyes Project by Christine Kufske

Cancer.  A disease which 40% of Canadian women and 45% of Canadian men will develop during their lifetimes.1

Christine Kufske was two years into her full time photography business ( when her neighbour was scheduled to start chemotherapy for breast cancer.  Feeling powerless, but eager to help, Christine offered her friend the one thing she could: a complimentary photo shoot.  Her neighbour and friend was so grateful that Christine realized that this was something she could continue to give.  With that, The Smiling Eyes Project was born.  It quickly grew from one  photographer in 2006, to twenty photographers today.  "It's pretty cool when we can help make someone forget about their journey by being surrounded by their closest loved ones for an hour or two, by having fun, laughing and cuddling and creating memories captured on film."  Holly Schnider ( joined The Smiling Eyes Project in 2008 as a tribute to her mother --a breast cancer survivor.  "A lot of photographers start their business because photography is a passion and of course that's no different with me. But, I need to do more than just take photos and reap profits. I take photos and capture memories because it's important to the overall quality of our lives -- my clients and myself. Being able to share my love of photography with those who could use an extra boost of happiness or to help celebrate their fight with Cancer and disease is extremely rewarding. Photography isn't just a business, it's life. And why not share that passion with others? You find inspiration for life and images in almost every corner of the world and Smiling Eyes is a big corner for inspiration and strength." Each Smiling Eyes session is a special experience.  Schnider says it's about the experience "and seeing how happy the clients are if they have won the battle or how strong and determined they are if they are mid-struggle. I feel inspired with each and every session, no matter what leg of the journey the recipient is on".  As a Smiling Eyes photographer, Holly is required to provide two complimentary Smiling Eyes sessions per month.  To apply, photographers must have an online portfolio and have been shooting for a minimum of two years.  Kufske also wants to know why they want to become a part of the team.  Schnider says she gains something valuable from each Smiling Eyes session too.  "I'm more aware of being present and appreciating what I have, not what is 'missing'. It's all about attitude and approach. The positive energy felt through my Smiling Eyes clients snaps me back on course because if they can keep pushing forward no matter what has been tossed their way, why can't I?"  Schnider says her Smiling Eyes clients want to be treated like any other client and it shows -- in the experience and the images.  Caroline Greenway is one of the Smiling Eyes clients and a cancer warrior.  Diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer called "secretory carcinoma", at the age of 22, Greenway has undergone a mastectomy, six weeks of radiation, and one (of two) reconstruction surgeries.  Her second one is scheduled for the end of the month.  This form of breast cancer is exceptionally rare; in fact, her initial biopsy results came back as a cyst, not cancer.   She turned to Smiling Eyes as a way to celebrate completing her radiation treatment.  "Smiling Eyes gave me a memory I will never forget and pictures that will show who I was, and who my family was in that incredible moment in my life. Christine captured our feelings, and our love for one-another in a momentous way and I would thank her a million times over if I could. I often look back at those pictures and I can't help but smile. Smiling Eyes gave me the ability to be thankful, to smile, and to always remember that time in my life." 

Helen Robertson's experience was equally valuable but much different.  It was Helen's son, Liam who was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma at the just three months of age.  Liam had tumors on his adrenal gland, liver, lymph nodes, and skin.  He underwent eight rounds of chemo, several surgeries, and experimental vitamin therapies.  At the time of their first Smiling Eyes session,  "Liam was 4 months old and had just had surgery to biopsy his tumors.  He was full of stitches, looked sick, and somehow [Christine] managed to capture his smile and have him look perfect."  Liam is now a healthy, happy eight year old boy. "Smiling Eyes gave us memories that will last a lifetime.  When you have a sick child you often don't feel like taking a lot of pictures and don't have a lot to celebrate but we have beautiful photos that are still on our wall."  Naturally, Robertson feels that Smiling Eyes is a wonderful project.  Their most recent session was to celebrate Liam's five years off treatment.

As founder of The Smiling Eyes Project, Kufske has been touched by cancer several times over -- her father, grandmother, and close friends have been affected by cancer.  "It's a disgusting disease and this is my way of fighting back."  For you -- the strong, the warriors, the champions -- it is the goal of Smiling Eyes to give you this gift: "an hour out of your journey to offer you fun and laughter with your loved ones, while creating memories that can be cherished. We want to help make your journey a little less difficult, and make memories of life and love more vivid." For information on The Smiling Eyes Project, visit their website

  1 Candian Cancer Society, General Cancer Statistics at a Glance,