It's a stat that will both shock and sadden you: Each weekday, 46 families across the U.S. are told that their child has cancer. Over time, they'll watch their child lose their strength, their spark, their chutzpah and, perhaps most noticeably, their hair. They'll hold their hands through the doctor's visits, the painful tests and the chemo. And while many will get to one day rejoice in their child's remission, 12 percent of these parents will suffer the mind-numbing loss of their child.
Photographer Ali Smith has seen for herself what the cruel disease has done to children and their families; as well as the toll it takes on moms in particular, who feel helpless and out of control after the diagnosis.
For the fifth year running, Smith is taking part in the Shave for the Brave campaign, launched by the St. Baldrick's Foundation. There, 46 mothers unite against the disease that has ravaged their family and their child in one bold move of solidarity: shaving their heads. And Smith is there to document it all, before and after.
During their "before" photos, Smith says the mothers are sometimes unsure of what to do. They stand there, sometimes awkward and smiling stiffly. But afterwards? The change in each mom is palpable and powerful beyond words.
"When I next see this mother an hour later for her 'after' portrait, she is different," she writes in a New York Times piece on the campaign. "Not only physically, although her now bald and shiny white scalp is the most obvious change, but also in her stature, her confidence, her vibrancy — and her portrait. 'How do you feel?' I sincerely want to know. 'Amazing! I feel empowered! I feel like I’ve taken control back from the disease that has taken over my life!'"
Here are just a few of Smith's beautiful portraits: