February 2014

Mother, Photographer and Cancer Survivor: The Everyday Achiever

People are always striving to achieve personal goals and overcome obstacles, making them everyday achievers. Forty-year-old Krisinda Whitley is a mother of four and a professional photographer. Always on the go between taking care of the household and running her own company, it came as a surprise to all when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer just last year.

“I was in shock,” Whitley said.

“It didn’t seem real,” Whitley’s close friend, Erin Beverly said through tears.

Krisinda Whitley fought hard ti beat her cancer.

Krisinda Whitley fought hard ti beat her cancer.

After the initial diagnosis, Whitley said she didn’t have time for a major procedure. “I can’t have surgery right now,” she told the nurses. “My daughter has Prom and Graduation. I have obligations.” However, this was not something she could ignore for long.

“I really didn’t know what to feel,” Whitley’s husband, Jerry Whitley, said. “I remember feeling grateful because I had just come across a job where we had insurance. But I was the support I had to be when needed.”

Whitley was then faced with the difficult decision of surgical options. The only way to ensure that all of her cancer would be removed was by undergoing a full hysterectomy. Though, having this procedure would mean she would no longer be able to have children naturally. Having four children already, Whitley made the choice to ask her husband what he wanted.

“He told me that it was my body and that I needed to make the decision,” Whitley said of her husband. “He didn’t hesitate because in his eyes and their eyes, all the kids are his. So, I decided to take it all just in case.”

The beginning of the road to recovery was slow. Whitley was not able to do much at first until she regained her strength. “She was very positive,” her husband said. “She knew in her heart that the Lord would do whatever it took to take care of her. I don’t think she was ever nervous.”

But only a few nights later, she entered her son’s room shaking him awake as she collapsed onto his bed. “I was in shock,” Whitley’s son, Zachary Lewis, said. “I had to go back to bed because I had school in the morning, but I couldn’t stop thinking about if she was okay.”

Upon being readmitted to the hospital, multiple blood clots were discovered in her lungs. Nurses told her son she was lucky he was there because she needed immediate medical attention.

“They found five large blood clots in my lungs,” Whitley said. “The nurse said ‘if you would have gone to sleep, you wouldn’t be here tomorrow.’”

Through everything Whitley remained more optimistic, placing her faith in the hands of her doctors and above all, in God.

Kristin Williams and her daughter visit Krisinda Whitley during her hospital stay.

Kristin Williams and her daughter visit Krisinda Whitley during her hospital stay.

“I think she stayed very strong and got herself through it,” Whitley’s friend and partner, Kristen Williams said. “Aside from the cancer and her struggles, she is a very faithful person in everything she does. She is always there to be inspirational for someone else. Anytime anyone needs something she is there. She always puts others ahead of herself.”

Whitley is still on blood thinning medication today and has a limited diet, but she feels lucky to be alive. Now she is back to doing what she does best; making others smile.

When she started her photography business nearly five years ago, she had no idea how fitting the name would be: “New Beginnings.”

“God gave me a second chance for some reason to do the best I can to fulfill the reason for him and my family,” Whitley said. “Sometimes things happen for a reason and make your eyes open a little bit more. This made me a better person.”

Mother of two turns hobby into profession

Photography was something that Amy Mooney had always loved, but doing it on a professional level seemed like an impossible dream. It was hard enough for the full-time mom to find time to devote to her favorite hobby.

“I liked being behind a camera,” she said. “I like capturing the moments that nobody else remembers.”

But the responsibilities of motherhood proved too demanding, and the dream was pushed to the back of her mind. That is, until her brothers wedding.

Ann Mooney at work creating family portraits.

Amy Mooney at work creating family portraits.

Mooney credits the occasion as being the shoot that gave her the courage to go pro. When he asked her to be their photographer, she initially refused. But after several months of pestering by her future sister-in-law, she accepted. Using a camera loaned to her by her mother, she went on to shoot her first wedding.

That was a pivotal moment for Mooney. She knew then that she could use her love of photography to provide for her family. But she was hesitant to take on the extra responsibility that would come with running her own business. She was worried it would take away from raising her kids.

“I’ve tried to hold part-time jobs a couple of times while being a mom, and it’s just not possible,” she said. “With doctors appointments and schedules, you never know when they’re going to get sick.”

Doctor’s appointments and emergencies are frequent in the Mooney household.

Jami Mooney, her son, was born 9 weeks early and with a slew of developmental issues. He was in and out of the hospital 15 times in his first year of life. When he was 15 months old he was diagnosed with periventricular leukomalacia, a disorder characterized by the death of brain tissue. Jami faced a life at risk of motor disorders, delayed mental development, coordination problems and vision and hearing impairment.

Determined not to let her son fall victim to his handicap, Amy placed him in physical, occupational and speech therapies at an early age. He was unable to walk until the age of four. The day he finally took his first steps was a celebration for Amy.

“For me, milestones were very, very important,” she said. “The very first time he walked, I had it on video. Because I wanted those moments. I never knew if they would happen one time or many times.”

Capturing those moments had always been important to her. She regularly took her older daughter, Jena, in for professionally done portraits. Doing the same thing proved much more difficult for Jami.

“When we went to have Jami’s pictures done, we couldn’t find anybody who not only had the patience, but wasn’t scared or wouldn’t tell us no,” Mooney said. “He had a walker. People were intimidated by that.”

Amy Mooney never expected to be a professional photographer but considers herself blessed.

Amy Mooney never expected to be a professional photographer but considers herself blessed.

It was a combination of that frustration and the ability to set her own schedule that made Mooney decide to give professional photography a shot. And it allowed her to find her niche.

“I decided that because for us it was so hard with special needs kids and families,” she said. “That was something I wanted to focus on.”

She offers deals for individuals with disabilities or serious medical conditions, knowing all too well how tight money can be in those circumstances. A full third of her clients have special needs. It can be challenging working with them, but for Mooney, the results speak for themselves.

She recounted the story of one family whose photos she took. The husband of one of her close friends was diagnosed with cancer. A few short months after his diagnosis, he passed away. But not before Mooney spent an afternoon in St. Augustine with the family, shooting what would be their last, and only set of portraits.

“She told me ‘These are the first, last, and only family portraits we’ll ever have, and it took him dying to get them,’” Mooney remembered.

For Mooney, helping people hold onto their memories makes all of her struggles worthwhile.