Robyn's Story: How PROJECT 3.8 Came To Life

Looking back, I sometimes feel I was a lousy friend.

I knew Dorian had cancer — I’d seen the pain his treatment caused and heard the family’s story numerous times. His mom was a friend, a good friend. Somehow, I thought I had given back and done my part by photographing him a few times, capturing his immense strength and perseverance with the rapid clicks of my shutter.

But if hindsight has taught me anything, it’s that I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

What Dorian really needed was for me to be the kind of friend to his mom that would surprise her with gas cards to help her get to and from the hospital, to drop off a home-cooked meal after days of inpatient treatment, or hire someone who would clean her house every now and then. There were days I could have offered to sit with her at Hasbro Children’s Hospital on days when D would get his chemo, or surprised them with movie tickets so they could laugh after a long, crappy day. I could have filled her fridge with groceries, did some laundry, or mowed her lawn. I could have done any of these things. Instead, I offered what was easy for me, and I didn’t do it often enough.

Then earlier this year, after getting the devastating news that treatment was no longer an option, Dorian touched the hearts of people across the globe. His wish to become famous became a social media movement, #Dstrong, unlike anything else, taking the world by storm. He had been fighting Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of pediatric cancer, since he was 4-and-a-half years-old. The photo I took of this brave young boy wearing boxing gloves quickly became the face of his movement, and I had the privilege of seeing my work travel the globe in his honor. I was humbled.

I hadn’t done enough for him, yet here he was giving me this profound gift.

As I watched my photograph appear on the largest screen in the world at Texas Motor Speedway, I was stunned beyond words.  All I could think was, “Since when are people so interested in a photo of a child with cancer?” Typically, the public turns away as quickly as possible from photos of sick, bald children with cancer. But this time, they didn’t turn away. They shared the photo and kept sharing it until it circled the globe. Something within me was compelled to explore this phenomenon more deeply, and the idea of a new visual model for pediatric cancer and PROJECT 3.8 was born.

I envisioned a traveling gallery show of large scale portraits of other children with cancer. A show that could go all over Rhode Island and perhaps beyond. I thought if I could grab someone's attention with these additional powerful portraits, the way I had done with Dorian's, then maybe I could have enough time to educate the audience about the burden these families endure. Dorian's mom loved the idea and got fully on board. I've now photographed 20 kids for my show and things are coming together.

PROJECT 3.8 was so named to call attention to the fact that national funding for all pediatric cancers combined is a mere 3.8%, which is not enough.

The project has consumed my world, opened my eyes, and made my heart sing with joy to work with these amazing children and their families.  I don't know what the future will hold, but I know this was a journey I had to take.

I heard the whisper, and I answered the call. 

I can't go back in time and do more for Dorian and his family, but I'm driven by the hope that I can use my skills as a photographer to reshape our relationships with local children with cancer and their families to better help them during their fight.

I didn’t realize just how little I knew about what D was going through, and thus what his family was enduring. If I had, perhaps I would have done more. Am I really so different from you in that way? If you knew how much they needed it, wouldn’t you help?

Now is our chance.

Robyn's Professional Background

Though a New England native, in my heart I am a citizen of the world.

At 15, I spent a year as an exchange student in Germany. It happened to be the year the Berlin Wall came down. That experience changed my life. Traveling got into my blood and I spent the better part of my youth finding ways to see more of the world. To me, nothing beats a great road trip and meeting kindred spirits along the way.

Before I became a professional photographer, I worked with baby chimpanzees in Africa, led German tourists on adventure camping trips in Alaska and beyond, taught English to folks in Europe and worked for an anti-hunger coalition in Vermont. In 2001, I became a mom and began the journey of raising two boys. I am passionate about personal growth and love helping people see themselves from new perspectives. Lately I've become obsessed with Instagram, and one day I may learn how to knit.

I shoot a wide range of work for commercial, editorial and private clients and enjoy teaching workshops that bridge the gap between photography and shifting the lens through which we view our lives.

You can visit my commercial site here.

I live in Wickford, Rhode Island.