These stunning images are more than just a glimpse into the minds of children. They are the dreams of kids battling cancer, brought to life. Some of these beautiful kids were so sick they could barely stand, and not all of these brave little warriors won their fight. But their powerful legacy lives on.
If we could peer into the mind of a child – it would look something like these photos. Kids dream of being Batman. Of fighting dragons, or being mermaids or fairies. Because for kids, anything is possible – even kids with cancer.
American photographer Jonathan Diaz’s new book, True Heroes, brings to life the fantasies of sick children, through both images and stories penned by a host of best-selling authors.
“I started really getting into this creative, collage-type of photography about three years ago, asking my kids to imagine living their dreams, and sort of recreating that imagination through my lens,” Jonathan tells TODAY.
“After a while, I thought, ‘Why not give this project to kids with cancer, and create a special way for them to live their own dreams?'”
The real stories attached to each of the photos are inspiring and some are heartbreaking:
“He wanted to be both Batman and a doctor. His mum said he had just felt such a connection with his own doctors. He knew that they were trying to save his life. He had so much empathy for them, and he wanted to save other people’s lives, too.” Ethan has since passed away.
“She just loves to read books. So I thought, well, let’s just make her imagination come alive while she’s reading the book. She had a great time posing and smiling.”
“I wanted that image to be very whimsical. I didn’t just want her to become a baker; I wanted her to being able to do amazing things far beyond her wildest dreams. She not only created all these amazing baked goods, but she also was able to magically balance them and look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.”
“Marley’s actually older. She got cancer when she was younger, and then it went into remission. Her dream was to play soccer in college, and last year, she got a scholarship to do just that. I wanted to include her to show the other kids that some of these people’s dreams really do come true.”
“She was pretty funny. When we went down there to take her pictures, she became a little model, posing and laying on the ground.”
“Out of thousands of people, there was one guy who happened to be on the donor registry and he matched her. They were able to do this bone marrow transplant that saved her life. She is now cancer-free and doing very well.”
“This was at the beginning of the shoot. This was before she really wanted to stand up. I remember kneeling down next to her and saying, ‘Listen, I know we’re in your living room and there are lights and cameras. But if you can imagine with me that you’re in Wonderland, I’m going to put you there through photography. It was just one of those moments where I felt she really, truly escaped.”
Breeann had been a competitive dancer before being diagnosed with bone cancer. The procedures she underwent meant doctors thought she’d never dance again, and that it would take her two years to learn to walk again. “Well, she learned to walk within a year. And that’s pretty amazing. I really wanted to turn her into a dancer again. If we can do it through art, you know, maybe someday it could happen in real life.”
Jonathan asked each of the children about their dreams and fantasies, then went about creating fun photo shoots. He then spent up to 20 hours working on each image to bring it to life.
“I take a bunch of elements — for instance, photos of fire, and photos of water, and photos of a building, as well as the initial photos of the kids — and I combine it all together in Photoshop.”
A group of 21 professional authors brought the kids’ dreams to life through their words, and the book is now available for purchase, through the Anything Can Be project.
“I think the one thing I am inclined to accomplish with this book and project is to raise as much awareness as possible,” Jonathan says. “I really see it as an opportunity to give children hope. Hospitals and other medical centers can give it to sick kids, for example, and give them a sense of renewed optimism. That’s my real goal.”