Illness refocuses a photographer's dream
Amelia Coffaro : Illness refocuses a photographer's dream
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Amelia Coffaro: Illness refocuses a photographer's dream
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The most persistent dreamers don’t let life’s challenges get in the way of what they love to do. Amelia Coffaro is the perfect example.
When she was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer at the age of 28, Amelia turned to something that had previously brought focus to her life: photography. Rather than hang up her camera, she turned it on herself, documenting her treatment and recovery. The resulting series, Walk Through Cancer, serves as a way to remember a two-year journey that was at times chaotic and painful.
“My photography became about being a curious observer and stepping outside of myself, outside of fear, to just notice,” she said. “It’s a way to see all these moments that felt so awful and so terrible as really beautiful. It was a way to be curious and not so afraid.”
At the time of her diagnosis, Amelia had only been a photographer for a few years, having been first inspired by an Annie Leibovitz documentary. On a whim, she went to a thrift store and found the same camera used by the famous photographer. When the first roll of film came back, the results surprised her.
“I thought, ‘Wow, if I knew what I was doing, what could I do with this?'” she said. “I had always liked this idea of putting different things together to make something. For me, photography is a way to bring all the things that I love about art together: a person, a place, light.”
Amelia dove into her new hobby head-first, planning a two-week trip to New York to take a class at the International Center of Photography. The class led to an internship, and two weeks turned into three years. She didn’t leave New York until she started feeling run down, something she initially attributed to life in the big city, but which turned out to be the first sign of her cancer.
Photography wasn’t the only passion that kept Amelia going when she was ill. She also found solace in yoga, which had such a profound effect on her life that she began training to become an instructor following her recovery.
“When I was diagnosed with cancer, the first place I knew I needed to go was yoga. Throughout treatment, throughout recovery, it’s been a way to come outside of myself and watch myself heal on a physical level,” she said. “I’ve watched myself go from days where all I could do was breathe to Warrior II or Standing Tree. That’s been a real gift.”
“It never stops. You just keep dreaming up more dreams.”
Today, Amelia is living cancer-free in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and has a long list of things she’d like to achieve, everything from nature-inspired photography projects to international travel. But her most immediate goal is opening her own healing center and using yoga to help other people going through cancer treatment. In a way, her illness wasn’t so much an obstacle to her dream as something that helped it evolve.
“Last year my dream was to become a yoga teacher, and I did that,” she said. “That’s the thing though: it never stops. You just keep dreaming up more dreams.”
In the Moment
This shift in direction may seem abrupt, but yoga and photography have something in common that helped Amelia through a hard time: they both encourage the idea of being in the moment. Yoga helps her be aware of the present, while photography gives her a way to capture it.
“All we ever have is this moment,” she explained. “When we can open ourselves to that and be present in that awareness, then every other worry subsides. It’s a matter of cultivating that sense of peace and calm and presence. And when you’re not so peaceful and calm, just gently remind yourself that it’s all okay.”
This sort of tranquility doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Many dreamers let fear and doubt keep them from even beginning their journey. Amelia has advice for them: just be yourself.
“If you have a sense of who you are and what you want to do, even if it seems impossible, do it anyway,” she said. “You never know who you’ll meet; you never know where life will take you. Life is full of surprises. It’s scary and exciting and challenging all at the same time. Have a strong sense of self, be willing to take risks and don’t be afraid to fail—because you’re going to fail. But that’s a beautiful lesson too.”