From Preston Gannaway:
Reporter Chelsea Conaboy and I started following Carolynne and Rich St. Pierre and their family in March 2006 after a family friend called the Concord Monitor. They wanted a way to document Carolynne’s story for her children and share it with others who might be experiencing something similar. We saw it as an opportunity to tell a story that was both universal and unique, about a family facing death from a rare and aggressive illness while struggling to maintain the family unit.
What originally was intended to be a six-month story on a family dealing with illness evolved into five printed stories spanning nearly two years. We grew incredibly close to the family in that time.
When I first met them, I made a conscious decision to open up more to them emotionally than I had with other subjects. For a long time I had held the notion that a photojournalist should be like a “fly on a wall,” and I think that idea was keeping me from growing and telling more intimate stories.
At the onset, I agreed to give copies of all my photographs to Rich after the story published. The desire to create a document for the children to have later in life was a huge motivation for Rich. Carolynne was pleased with how the first story turned out and they both invited us to continue following them.
We followed them through changes in treatment, hospital stays, family outings, holidays and the emotional challenges of coping with the disease as Carolynne’s condition worsened. Chelsea and I worked constantly with our editors to get time away from our daily assignments. Because the Monitor is such a small paper, we were very fortunate to have been given the support and time that we had. As a journalist, one of the many lessons I learned from the St. Pierres was how much it means just to spend time. The more we were around, the more the family came to understand how much we cared and were invested in their story.
After Carolynne died we struggled with our own grief. I felt very strongly that we shouldn’t end the story with her death, because in many ways the story was just beginning. I thought it was important to document the grieving process as well because that’s a story that’s rarely told. Chelsea and I worked hard to depict the family’s changing relationships honestly and objectively. We had many discussions about ethical boundaries. And many discussions just trying to figure out what was going on below the surface and how best to illustrate that.
I wanted to create one entire story from our work — either in a newspaper reprint or online. I was lucky to be able to drag our photo intern, Kari Collins, along with me as I attempted to create a multimedia version of the work. She acted as my editor and spent many late nights at the Monitor with me as we tried to finish the project in time to launch with the final newspaper story.
Regrettably, I was only able to do one audio interview with Carolynne. The narrative used in the 6-chapter multimedia piece was compiled mostly from interviews that Chelsea and I did with Rich and the kids. One of first times I ever edited audio was of that first interview with Rich and Carolynne.
I feel proud of the completeness that we were able to create with the multimedia project. And the many emails of support from people around the world who have seen their story have provided a lot of comfort to the family. It goes to further honor the headline that accompanied the first story we published. The headline that Carolynne found so fitting — when she asked that people remember her.