Celebrating 40 (And So Much More)

You are never going to believe the photos of this beautiful woman or the story that I am about to share with you. Having been through a few personal crisis in my life, I find that I am attracted to stories about women who have survived and thrived.  I also love writing lately, which is very cathartic for me these days.  So, it was time I started sharing on our blog again and I want to fill it with stories of Beauty, Survival, and Celebrating Amazing Women.  When Jen asked me to do her photoshoot hair and makeup, I originally didn’t understand the whole story.  But, by the time we had spent a few hours together getting her ready for this shoot. I knew I had to tell her story and encourage EVERY woman to celebrate life this way!

Celebrating 40 (and so much more)

By: Jen Donovan

In October 2019, one month before my 39th birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And that will always be difficult to write.

Over the next several months, the doctor’s office became my home away from home. All my energy was focused on this one thing, and it completely drained me. But God never left my side, and he carried me through those dark days in so many unexpected ways. There were no short-cuts, but there was the courage I needed for each day. Faith doesn’t make things easy; it makes them possible.

As I moved into the new year, 40 was now on the horizon. I decided to host a party for my birthday and use it as an opportunity to raise money for the foundation where I was being treated, but planning would be abruptly halted. The week after I finished treatment, coronavirus was in full force and New York State shut down completely. It was a difficult time as I had come to a turning point in my healing journey and now had to remain completely isolated from friends and family. But it was also a season of rest, which is something every survivor needs, and I was grateful for this unprecedented opportunity to slow down.

As the summer months passed, it became clear that it would still not be safe to hold an event in November, so it got postponed, but I couldn’t let this season of my life go unacknowledged. I had survived cancer, lived through coronavirus, and was about to turn 40 – experiences worthy of celebration!

I had planned on hiring a photographer to capture all the memorable highlights that would have taken place at the fundraiser, but then I thought, “You’ve been through so much this year and now you’re entering a new decade – capture that. You don’t need to have an event to do it.”

And that’s when the idea of a photo shoot was born. I would get all dressed up and glammed up (something I hadn’t even thought about doing after my diagnosis) and I would celebrate in photos this turning point in my life.

Alayne Curtiss and Dave Bigler were at the top of my list for makeup and photos. I hired them both for a conference I coordinated in 2016. Alayne and her team provided make-up and hair touch-ups for attendees and Dave updated their head shots. Since I was working the event, I was the last to get my picture taken. What they did in 10 minutes was amazing, and I’ve referred to them as “the dream team” ever since.

On a perfect fall day in late September, I spent the afternoon at Alayne’s salon, Make Me Fab, and watched as she transformed me into a woman who looked like she just stepped off a runway! Once you get diagnosed, you tend to feel worn out whenever you see your face in a mirror, but not that day. It was the best version of me I had seen in a long time and it was hard not to get emotional. I felt so pampered.

When I arrived at The Hall of Springs, I remember Dave asking me what I hoped to capture with these photos. I responded that I was so grateful to be alive. This birthday wasn’t something I dreaded – I was proud to be turning 40! The photo shoot represented leaving behind an unimaginably difficult season and celebrating the future in front of me.

Dave captured all that and more in these photos.  I twirled around with balloons in a black dress and the most awesome pink shoes I’ve ever owned. It felt so good to laugh and smile big. Dave also captured a few serious shots of me holding a sign I have hanging in the entryway of my home that says: “what is coming is better than what has gone.”

It helps me to remember that the past is in the past, and while memories of what I’ve been through will always linger, they don’t have any power over me. I will focus on all I have to be grateful for: how God healed me, and how I can use my experience to help others when they need strength during their own journeys.

Cancer was the hardest battle I’ve ever faced. Coronavirus only made it harder. It’s important to be creative in finding ways to acknowledge significant milestones whenever possible, and that’s what these photos are for me.

I think we assume we’re entitled to a pain-free life when we’re young, and that bad things, especially related to health, should be reserved for when we’re older. The truth is no one is promised anything. Don’t wait for a crisis to figure out what’s important. Have the courage to choose the things that matter now. And birthdays shouldn’t be something we dread because amazing things can happen at any time, at any age.

With that in mind, I’m stepping into a new year and a new decade with gratitude, a fresh perspective and purpose, and the desire to grab life with both hands!

This is 40 and I’m ready for it!

Have questions, thoughts or need to reach us to celebrate you or to contact Jen? Contact us at [email protected]