The Gold Hope Project | by Cynthia Dawson

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We have all heard of those split second moments that can change your life forever. For me, that moment was hearing the words “Your daughter has a brain tumor.”

When I hear about a family struggling with an ill child, as a mom I know all too well what they may be thinking, feeling, and experiencing; and as a photographer, I know all too well how important pictures mean to them. As both a mom and a photographer, I know how important my own photos of my children are since suffering the loss of a beautiful child, my first born, Ava.

When Ava was 4, she was diagnosed with a rare and terminal brain tumor. The safe and secure bubble I lived in with my loving little family burst instantly. Doctors told me over and over that she wouldn’t make it and I tried to prepare myself for her inevitable fate but . . . that was impossible. There was nothing I could do for how her death changed my family and me . . . nothing.

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As we try to figure out life without her, one thing always brings me comfort . . . the photographs I have of her.

I’m often asked how it feels to look at my photos of Ava. In all honesty, it’s bittersweet. My soul sings when remembering what she was like during each stage she was at in the photo, and I find myself grinning back at her. Sometimes I just plain burst into tears at those same photos. As they flow from my eyes, my tears are each and every memory of my baby. My tears are the sadness her loss left behind, the joy her life brought me and the memories not caught by photographs. My tears are a poignant reminder that I’m alive and she is not, making the photographs I hold the only way I get see the sparkle in her eye and her big, contagious grin. I’m so thankful that I have photos of her to hold on to. They give my heart a little break in the sadness of losing her too soon and serve as a much-needed time machine for a momma whose heart will never be whole again.

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Because of the way photographs bring our family a dose of comfort, we brought together like-minded photographers from around the country to help us provide that gift for other families who sadly have a child with cancer. The Gold Hope Project was inspired by my Ava and is a special place where her memory can live on. Many families with ill children are emotionally, physically and financially strapped; it is the heart of The Gold Hope Project to take at least one worry off their shoulders and gift them something magical – the smiles of their children frozen in time.

Families that the organization has been able to photograph all share the same sentiment, gratitude. It is such a blessing to all those involved - from the photographers who share their gift to the families that receive these special images. Photography is a gift I’m honored to help give over and over. Like my tears so often remind me, I am alive and although my baby is not, my life is best lived by giving to other parents what I so immensely treasure. Sometimes the importance of this gift is immediately apparent, while other times the importance is seen years later. In either case, I am humbled to offer my love of photography and my purpose after my loss of Ava to others.

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