I was completely privileged to take hospice photos for Julian Ross, who has battled Stage IV Neuroblastoma for over 3 years years. Julian is a 9 year old boy who lives in Oswego, NY with his parents, Steve Ross and Kristi Thompson and his brothers, Alex Thompson (20) and Brayden Ross (6).
I had met Julian’s mom Kristi Thompson at a fundraiser a few years ago, where I also “met” Julian and his dad via Skype, as Julian was in the hospital receiving treatment at that time. Yesterday was my first time meeting Julian in person. When I got there, I was immediately greeted by his mother and a myriad of other well wishers and people who just wanted to lend a hand with whatever the family needed. Julian’s younger brother Brayden also said, “hi” and showed me a little bit of the video game he was playing. It looked pretty fun, so I felt kind of bad when I accidentally set my camera bag on the TV remote and muted it. However, the video game crisis was averted once Brayden was able to tell me how to fix the volume. Even though I was holding a Canon 5D Mark II camera and 70-200mm 2.8 lens, I still think Brayden knew more about electronics than me.
Julian was asleep in bed when I first met him. His mom told him who I was and that I was just going to take a few photos. He opened his eyes a little; you could tell he was listening to what she was saying. We immediately connected over our mutual love of the band Train, as I recently saw on Facebook that lead singer, Pat Monahan, recorded a video greeting Julian and wishing him well. In true twenty-something form, I wore my Train shirt under my “professional” blazer to show my camaraderie with Julian. His mom, Kristi told me a few of Julian’s favorite songs were, “Hey, Soul Sister”, “Drops of Jupiter”, and “Calling All Angels”.

While we talked, Julian would open his eyes a bit, smile, and he even gave a few “thumbs ups”. I couldn’t help but notice his cat, Anu. She was laying peacefully with Julian, and seemed very protective of him. Anu wanted to inspect my camera thoroughly, and made several attempts at getting close enough to smell it. I’m a longtime believer that animals can sense things we can’t and are just more in tune with things on a spiritual level. Watching Anu guarding and protecting Julian completely reaffirmed my thoughts.
Next, I met Steve Ross, Julian’s dad. As with Julian, I originally met Steve through Skype a few years back at a fundraiser. His parents were so kind and wanted to be sure I was comfortable.
As I began to take photos, their conversation flowed towards Julian as they interacted with him naturally. They would ask him about his pain level, if he wanted to try and eat or drink anything, and they would hold his hands. I gave very few posing prompts and said little at this time, as the nurturing from Steve and Kristi was so genuine and real, I didn’t want to change a thing. It was both beautiful and empowering to watch Kristi stroke Julian’s hair and Steve protectively make sure no one touched any part of Julian that was in pain. They are true and tireless champions for their son.
Julian’s brother Brayden joined us for a few photos as well. At 6 years old, Brayden is only a bit older than my son, and acted a lot like him as well; video games are always more fun than getting your picture taken by some strange lady babbling about Train and trying to bond with your brother’s cat. Brayden is a great kid, who has been through a lot the past few years, and it was a testament to their parenting to see Steve and Kristi strive to ensure that Brayden felt included in everything.
As the photoshoot concluded, the sheer reach of Julian’s story to the community became more obvious to me. More well wishers were arriving, including WOLF 105.1 radio station. People throughout Oswego have brought food, left candles, balloons and flowers outside their house, and even donated gifts to both Julian and Brayden. Through his Facebook page, Julian’s Joust, his family has documented Julian’s battle with cancer in a way that has reached people around the world. The magnitude of how far Julian’s story has spread is outstanding to me. His Facebook page “likes” grows daily, and is currently hovering around 17,000!
After I posted a few of the photos I took to my Facebook page, I was moved to see the outpouring of love and support. People from all over the world were writing to me and telling me how they’ve followed Julian’s story for years and are really pulling for him. Others had just now heard about him and were learning what Neuroblastoma was. The photos on my page alone have by viewed by over 43,000 people.
One of Julian’s biggest wishes from his “Bucket List” is for more awareness for childhood cancer. I’m here to publicly say that, Julian: you granted your own wish. By allowing your journey to be documented, you have brought so much awareness to childhood cancer, and people around the world have learned about Neuroblastoma because of you. You’ve been told thousands of times how strong you are to battle this disease, (which you are!), but I don’t think you’ve been told enough that you’re not just a fighter; you’re an advocate. It was my privilege to meet you and to take these photos to help document your battle and I hope they can work towards assisting your continued awareness for childhood cancer.

 

Please visit Facebook.com/JuliansJoust to follow Julian’s story.

To donate towards final expenses, please visit: https://www.gofundme.com/Juliansjoust