Keeping his focus
A devastating diagnosis stunned photographer Kim Kennedy. But his work, and a close-knit circle of family and friends, help him see the big picture.
BROOKLINE — In a series of portraits shot by photographer Kim Kennedy over the past year, dancers from the Boston Ballet appear to be falling from the sky. Their costumes, fashioned out of newspaper, show signs of fraying in mid-flight.
For Kennedy, who arranged the photo sessions around his hospital visits to receive chemotherapy, the images are nearly as personal as X-rays of his cancer-stricken body.
“It wasn’t planned, but they do show what I was going through,’’ Kennedy says during a lengthy, sometimes emotional interview at his Brookline apartment, which he shares with his wife, Marina, and their daughter, Misha, 5. “When I finally spread the pictures out, you could see it.’’
He pauses to sip some juice, dehydration being one side effect of the latest drug regimen he hopes will save his life. “They’re not doing happy ballet pictures,’’ he continues, alluding to the exhibit, which is scheduled to go up at Boston Ballet headquarters this spring. “They’re floating, like I was floating. You can see it in their faces.’’ Kennedy takes another swallow. “The only time I felt normal was when I was shooting.’’
Kennedy, 49, a well-known local fashion photographer, is among the hundreds of cancer patients undergoing treatment in the Boston area at any given time. His yearlong battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, first diagnosed in January 2010, at an advanced (Stage 4) level, is unremarkable in that sense. Many other cancer patients and their loved ones have become achingly familiar with drugs such as Rituxan and Methotrexate, seen once-taut bodies swell while taking steroids, agonized over CAT scans and MRIs, and relied on potent pain medications to get them through another trying day.
To friends and colleagues, though, and even to doctors and nurses who have treated him, the courage, humor, and optimism Kennedy has shown is anything but ordinary.
“You fall in love with Kim’s spirit. He’s so down to earth,’’ says Shannon Allen, wife of Boston Celtics star Ray Allen, whose professional collaboration with Kennedy has blossomed into a close friendship. Allen manages the Goonies, a local rock band, and hired Kennedy to shoot the group’s latest music video, knowing every project he undertakes is complicated by his fragile health. Kennedy, says Allen, is “not only a fighter — he’s the coolest man on the planet.’’
Dr. Rodney Jamil, an oncology fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, one of three local hospitals where Kennedy has been treated, says Kennedy’s positive attitude has impressed everyone who has helped him deal with his condition. “He really encapsulates what it means to love life, to want to live,’’ says Jamil. “That’s not only what’s kept Kim going through chemotherapy; it’s also inspired me.’’Marina Kennedy, a former professional basketball player, says her husband’s cancer has magnified every possible emotion a family can experience, from anxiety to depression to euphoria. “Behind closed doors, you see the reality. And the reality is, we’re both scared,’’ she admits. “But we’ve got to deal with this. I know from being a basketball player, you win as a team. And I hate to lose.