Coming Into Focus

Coming Into Focus

Life can take many turns. For Paula Graham, hers took an unexpected one when she received a diagnosis of cancer at the age of 43. The ensuing years, with the treatments and surgeries, were difficult. Paula felt isolated, and afraid. She was scared the cancer would come back. She talked about these fears with Social Worker Tom MacNeil, who convinced her to take part in the Art of Medicine. It became a turning point for Paula.

She was paired with photographer Kris Tynski. The bond they formed was fast and deep, as was the bond Paula formed with photography. The creative outlet became a real passion for her. She quickly bought a new camera and began exploring the world through different eyes. Daily drives around Cape Breton Island and walks with her dog provided the backdrop to her photography.

While photography provided comfort for Paula, it didn’t come with confidence. However, after much convincing, she agreed to showcase her work in an exhibition. The reaction to her pictures was the catalyst for a renewed sense of confidence, and she took every opportunity to take photos of Cape Breton Island, which were in high demand.

Another of life’s turns was in store for Paula. A terminal diagnosis soon followed. She formed new relationships, this time with the staff and volunteers providing palliative care services. One of those was with music therapist, Jill Murphy. Jill saw the profound impact the images Paula created had on herself and those around her, and she wrote a song about these powerful pictures. Jill sang it at her Memorial Service, reminding everyone that beauty can hide in the darkest of corners.

Navigating through a terminal diagnosis was a roller coaster. Yet, Paula remained positive. She connected with the people she met while receiving palliative care services, and they became a new family to her. Mental health and alcohol addiction issues often meant Paula had spent a lot of her life alone, but in her last year, she started to talk about these issues and their affect on her life. She stopped drinking and found she was able to deeply enjoy the company of others. She focused on her new passions — photography and the people around her. There was no room for pity in Paula’s new world.

Her photos provide a beautiful backdrop of the peo­ple and places she loved. Paula’s grace and dignity in facing her end-of-life journey became an inspiration to her family, her friends and those who cared for her.

Paula never really knew the inspiration she had become to people, but she wanted to give back to palliative care.

While Paula did receive palliative care both at home and in hospital, she wasn’t where she wanted to be. That’s why her siblings are working to make the Hospice Residence a reality and are staying true to her wishes. Along with generously donating to the Hospice Fund, they have agreed to be a part of the advertising campaign that answers the question “Why Hospice.” They have also committed to providing any assistance they can—including providing access to Paula’s beautiful photos.

In her honour, and in keeping with her wishes, Helen and her brother, Robert, travelled to Iceland—a trip Paula had always wanted to take. A bittersweet journey that offered a chance to celebrate the life of their sister, and a reminder of just how fleeting time can be.

“Paula had a real impact on so many people, and she’s still having one. She was a very humble person who often didn’t think she mattered. In the end she knew her legacy would help others in their final journey. She was very happy,” said Helen.