Continuing the Princess's fight against breast cancer

 

(Published October. 6, 2006, 11:18 a.m.)

Photographer spent three days with Princess Diana in 1996

By Donna Lenz Wright

Holly Rodgers of Stuart Rodgers Photography in Chicago and Evanston, Ill. was given exclusive access to Princess Diana during her visit to Chicago in 1996, a year before her death.

Rodgers saw an article in the Chicago Tribune about the Princess's upcoming visit and had to vie against many other photographers for the rare opportunity of a lifetime to spent three days with the Princess.

"(The article) mentioned her coming to Northwestern University, the Drake Hotel and events at the Field Museum," Holly said. "We have done business with the Drake and Field museum for years, and my mom, brother and I all graduated from Northwestern. So it seemed a perfect fit.

"I went after it and we had to jump through hoops to get it because everyone wanted the job."

During her visit, Princess Diana spoke on behalf of breast cancer awareness, the same topic at the center of this weekend's events at the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa in Lake Geneva. So Rodgers' presentation is a perfect fit.

The presentation will feature a 30-minute multimedia retrospectives with over 100 rarely before seen photographs. Also featured are 24 enlarged images selected as best from the over 2,000 images taken during her stay in Chicago.

"The photos we will share are 24 great ones out of the 2,000 images. These show the princess with many faces, smiling, thinking, listening, pensive and all are beautiful."

The presentation will also include personal experiences plus the voices of others sharing how the princess's visit impacted them. Rodgers' presentation is a look into the essence of who this beautiful Princess was.

"I will show my all access pass at the show," she said. "We were the only photographers allowed into any of the events with her. There were outside photo ops for the others but we went into hospital rooms with her and everywhere."

The Rodgers team worked together, with Scott taking the behind-the-camera role. This gave Holly the opportunity to "sort of talk with her," she said.

"I was within feet of her most of the time ... Actually we were told not to speak to her unless spoken to, as is the custom with royalty per the British Consulate. But it is hard for an enthusiastic, confident woman like me to keep from talking to her, but I worked hard not to. She did say to me, 'Does your brother always make you carry his bags?' Very cute."

Holly's impression of Princess Diana was strong and long-lasting.

"She was lovely, elegant, regal, approachable, beautiful, kind, witty and intelligent. She was amazing. To be in the whirlwind of the visit. To have jet lag and not show it. To go up to the crowds over and over to talk to people and children and take flowers from people.

"She was kind and gentle in the hospital rooms with the patients. I can't say enough."

Scott, on the other hand, didn't see the allure of spending three days with Princess Diana to the degree that Holly did. But that changed quickly.

"My brother wasn't that excited to be doing this event, but when he saw her in the camera he kept saying to me, 'There isn't a bad angle.' She was beautiful in every picture. And although she looks beautiful, the photographs don't even show the radiance she had in person."

It was a "whirlwind" three days, Holly said. The first night, June 4, was spent at Northwestern University in Evanston. The morning of June 5 was a symposium followed by a trip to Cook County Hospital that afternoon and the Field Museum for a 2,500 people event that night. June 6 was a visit to Northwestern Memorial Hospital followed by the Drake Hotel the next day.

"Amazing," Holly says. "She was on a whirlwind here so we just followed. It was an amazing experience. She truly was an amazing woman and it is so unfortunate that we lost her at such a young age."

To fight cancer

Princess Diana spoke with knowledge and determination on the topic of the fight against cancer.

"She had clearly done her homework on the subject," Holly said. "I heard the doctors saying that they were so impressed with her questions.

"She spoke at the symposium and talked about the 'other C word-complacency,' and that we couldn't be complacent about this disease. She met with cancer patients and was gentle and loving.

Ironically, Holly herself battled breast cancer just over a year after the princess's visit.

"I went in for a routine checkup and four days later was in the hospital for surgery," she said. "It was frightening to say the least.

"They don't know how bad it is until they get in there and do tests, so you literally don't know what you will look like. Will they remove both breasts, or just the lump? And how bad the diagnosis is until you wake up from surgery."

Although she had none of the risk factors for breast cancer, Holly considers herself very lucky after waking up to find the doctors had performed a lumpectomy (as opposed to a mastectomy). That was followed by seven weeks of radiation and the sickness that goes along with it.

"One hard part for me was that I had three young children and love to be active. I work full-time, walk, workout almost daily, go to all my children's sport events, etc. and during those (last) four weeks, I could hardly walk to the kitchen some days. My children said that I should get a wheelchair to get around the house. They were kidding me, but truthfully I was exhausted."

She's been cancer-free ever since, but is permanently changed.

"Even now, every time I go for a check-up for anything I am worried it will be cancer again. I don't think it will ever change. I have since had several friends who have been diagnosed and have been able to help them through it.

"The experience, though, made me very aware, very compassionate towards all people with illness. It is not fun."

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