On a perfect Oregon spring-time day, over 100 family and friends gathered around to celebrate two very special little boys, one of whom was battling lots of his own real life dinosaurs.
Four year old Declan was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) on May 28, 2016. During that time he received 79 high doses of chemotherapy, two surgeries, and five bone marrow punctures. Needless to say, far more than any child should ever have to endure. In September of 2016, this tough dino-loving little guy had officially beat the odds and achieved remission. Unfortunately, just a few short months later, the cancer came back in February of 2017.
On March 31, 2018, we went to celebrate Declan and his twin brother Adrian's 6th Birthday. There was well over 100 people that filled the gym at the Northwest Gospel Church in Vancouver, Washington. As setup began, I noted all of the small details, which is always one of my favorite parts of event prep. There was dinosaurs absolutely everywhere, which was more than appropriate for someone whose nickname was "Declan the Dinosaur" of course.
Declan's love for dinos is more than appropriate for someone who has battled such large obstacles in his short life, and he hasn't let that stop him yet! As I went around taking photos of the different finishing touches, Declan and Adrian were playing with friends. Adrian, doing laps around the gym (I don't think I ever saw him stop moving!) and Declan, quietly being held by loved ones.
As the day progressed, some very special guests showed up. Elsa and Batman came with a whole party face paint kit to give all of the kiddos special artwork for the day! Adrian asked Lauren (mom) if he could get a snake "tattoo" on his stomach, but he settled for his arm instead. He proudly showed it off for the rest of the day.,
When it came time for cake, the Birthday boy were over the moon to see a large array of cookies, cake, and cupcakes for them to devour. Declan wasn't very hungry, but Adrian loved it!
Following the excitement of cake, there was an egg-citing dinosaur egg hunt planned in the main foyer of the church. The kids were all given favor bags created by yours truly to use as their collection container.
There was about 90 children at this party, so the egg hunt was a bit crazy. Because Declan hasn't been moving quite as fast as his peers, when he got out to the foyer all of the eggs had been found. I was following him as he walked around, and noted the extreme look of disappointment on his face. That was the one time all day that I almost cried.
That disappointment quickly disappeared when other kids noticed that Declan didn't have any eggs, and they were not only giving him their findings, but their entire bags. His face instantly lit up with smiles that brightened the entire room.
Once the egg hunt was over and Declan had unearthed his findings (and there was a LOT of them!), it was time to go back and let the kids play and have the boys open their presents.
Watching all of the children run around and have fun was so heartwarming, but even more so was watching Declan quietly sit on the floor as he opened all of his presents. It was very obvious how tired he was, but this little guy had plenty of energy to open some new toys!
As guests began to slowly exit the party, I grabbed Lauren (Declan's mom) so that we could do some family photos and of course one of our famous "Inspire" photos.
Another moment of reality struck when I went to hand Declan a water bottle to hold in his hand to pose him for his Inspire photo, but I had to empty the water bottle because it was too heavy for his little hand. But the second I started shooting, he could not stop smiling! Of course, I wanted a serious photo, but that was no easy task for this little man. He absolutely loves to smile!
From there, we moved onto some unposed, relaxing family photos. We wanted to capture those moments of happiness with Declan and even though everyone was exhausted, we managed to get some beautiful shots that we hope they will forever cherish.
March 31, 2018 is a day that will stay in my heart forever. I witnessed a community and family pull together during one of the most difficult times to give this amazingly deserving little boy a day that will never be forgotten. Cancer is awful, it's unfair, but it does not define a person. Declan's strong will to live and fight through all of the doctor's estimates is proof of that. Each day is a blessing for this family, and watching how strong they are through all of these struggles is something I will never forget.
Stay strong, Declan.
Photography and Video: Halsey
Birthday Party by: Mascots for a Cure
Face painting and characters by: Dragon Theater Puppets and Princesses