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HER PHOENIX MOMENT

HER PHOENIX MOMENT

Written by:Rachel Willingham (@willinghamrach on Instagram)

Wed, June 5, 2024 [New York, NY] Katie Losavio steps into the studio, and with her brings an effervescence and a certain something that countless women chase after their whole lives to no avail. It’s not something tangible, nor something attainable through the right clothes or accessories – rather, it’s something inherent to her being. She is grace. She greets me with a warm smile, and I can tell she’s just a little bit nervous. This is not her thing - but it will be soon.

 

On October 20th, 2023, four days before her 35th birthday and nine days before her first wedding anniversary, Katie was diagnosed with early-stage, bulky non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Her treatment began shortly thereafter, comprising six cycles of R-CHOP chemotherapy and immunotherapy. In January, Katie was admitted to the hospital on two occasions with neutropenic fever, caused by her almost entirely eliminated immune system. Her severely impacted immune system put her at high risk for any type of infection - and she was also fighting COVID simultaneously. In Katie’s own words, “I had extreme fatigue, steroid-related heart issues, dehydration, and intense cravings for sweets and carbs.  The medication I was eventually taking to boost my white blood cell count made my bones ache and I had headaches that lasted for 10-14 days at a time.  The treatment put me into early menopause (hopefully temporarily), which has caused hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, and severe mood swings.  I am hoping that my body will start to get back to normal, that I will no longer be in menopause, and that my fertility was not affected.”

When Katie and I met in April of 2024, I was producing a fashion show for LIM College. The school was partnering with the Verma Foundation, founded by Fox5NY anchor and Hodgkins Lymphoma survivor Natasha Verma. Natasha founded the Verma Foundation after her own cancer battle, and after experiencing how devastating and confidence-killing it can be for a woman to lose her hair during treatment. The Verma Foundation grants high-quality cap wigs to women experiencing hair loss due to chemotherapy, completely free of charge. One of those patient recipients, which turned out to be Katie, had been invited to walk the runway during LIM College’s 79th annual fashion show. Katie embraced going far outside her comfort zone and cruised the runway, hardly letting on even an iota of nerves.

The following morning, I woke to an email from Katie, thanking me for the experience - and asking for a favor. Katie wrote that she wanted to do a photoshoot - sans wig- as a means of empowering herself, and reminding herself that she is still powerful, still beautiful, and still her, despite her diagnosis and ongoing fight. Katie has said about her relationship with her hair loss, “Hair was always such a big part of my identity, but I’ve learned that hair is not as important as I always thought it was, and it doesn’t determine a woman’s beauty. My confidence has improved so much through this process.” As soon as Katie asked, I got to work on brainstorming who I would want to connect her with for a shoot - and immediately had just one designer I knew I had to reach out to -  Enter Chuks Collins.

Chuks’ power is in his exaltation of the woman’s form. His pieces celebrate a woman’s curves and embolden them with powerful prints and silhouettes while honoring his Nigerian heritage. When I approached him about helping make Katie’s vision come to life, there was zero hesitation on his part. He welcomed us into his showroom, allowing us to pull whatever made Katie feel fierce and powerful.

As Katie and I mused on what this shoot meant for her, one theme kept coming through - that despite a cancer diagnosis, a woman’s power and fire are never extinguished. If anything, the new chapter of life that follows the earth-shattering moment of diagnosis can perhaps be seen as a rebirth. From the ashes of the old “normal”, comes a new awareness of the fleeting nature of life, and a renewed focus on those things that truly matter. Through all of this transition, what remains constant is the fire at the very crux of one’s soul.

The looks we pulled for Katie’s shoot were far from what she would normally gravitate to - namely blue hues, and garments with sleeves. Initially, I felt a bit guilty that what we landed on was so far outside of her comfort zone - but that feeling quickly dissipated when I saw her strike power stance after power stance in Chuks’ beautiful garments. She was writing a new chapter, right there in front of us. It was not lost on me, also, that the pieces we ultimately pulled all seemed to tie back to a red, orange, and yellow palette - like fire. Here she was, taking the embers of her old life, and emerging, phoenix-like, for all to see.

Capturing this experience was photographer Brack Duncan, a multi-hyphenate extraordinaire, who is one of those gnawingly good-at-everything-they-do sorts. Brack’s photography background dates back to his childhood in Lexington, Kentucky, where he grew up and attended the University of Kentucky. While there, in addition to beginning his photography career, Brack danced, acted, and also founded his own nonprofit organization that connected the community with youth with disabilities.

Katie’s network truly came together for this effort, as was evident when the team at MKP/Chalkin Creative enthusiastically offered up their beautiful studio space for the shoot as well. Chalkin Creative is a photography and filmmaking production company based in NYC. Founded in 2014 by Charlie Chalkin, it collaborates with agencies and global brands in hospitality, tech, finance, and healthcare, to bring their visions to life through innovative visual media.

Katie’s photos are not just a highlight of the immeasurable talent of designer Chuks Collins and photographer Brack Duncan. They serve as a beacon of hope to girls and women currently fighting their own cancer battles and a reminder that what feels like a world-imploding moment, one that cannot be navigated nor weathered, can also be a rebirth. Katie herself has forged forward, finding new meaning in this reality that living with cancer has introduced her to. “Hair doesn’t define a woman, and cancer doesn’t define me”, Katie said. “Cancer has afforded me the time to slow down and has provided an impetus for me to discover more about myself.  I’m not in remission yet, but I am celebrating how strong, beautiful, and confident I feel, despite all that cancer has stripped away.  For all that it has taken, it has also brought me so much intentionality, self-discovery, new friendships, boldness, and joy.  May we all revel in each day we have on this planet, and live in fierce discovery & celebration of every little piece of ourselves.”

Model: Katie Losavio (@katiegirlllllll on Instagram)
Hair/Makeup: Katie Losavio
Designer: Chuks Collins (@chukscollinsofficial on Instagram)
Photographer: Brack Duncan (@lexingtonlensphotography on Instagram)
Creative Director: Rachel Willingham (@willinghamrach on Instagram)
Studio: Chalkin Creative (@Chalkincreative on Instagram)

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