McKenzie DeLaere, 18, of Shelby Township won the National Scholastic Art & Writing Gold Key award in mid-March for a picture she took of a candid moment between her parents as her mom was dealing with breast cancer.

McKenzie DeLaere, 18, of Shelby Township won the National Scholastic Art & Writing Gold Key award in mid-March for a picture she took of a candid moment between her parents as her mom was dealing with breast cancer.

Student earns national award for photo of mom’s battle with cancer

By: Joshua Gordon | Shelby - Utica News | Published April 2, 2018

 While surrounded by her dad, Patrick DeLaere, and mom, Nancy DeLaere, McKenzie DeLaere, 18, of Shelby Township, holds the photo she took of her parents that won a national award.

While surrounded by her dad, Patrick DeLaere, and mom, Nancy DeLaere, McKenzie DeLaere, 18, of Shelby Township, holds the photo she took of her parents that won a national award.

Photo by Donna Agusti

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — The DeLaere family couldn’t anticipate that Nancy DeLaere would be diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2017, or that she would have heart failure a month later.

Cancer isn’t planned, and those affected have to adapt to the situation. And when McKenzie DeLaere went to take a picture of her mom’s struggle with cancer for her photography class at Utica High School, that didn’t go as planned either.

Nancy, still undergoing chemotherapy last December, had shaved her head because of hair loss. To show her she wasn’t alone in her fight, her husband, Patrick DeLaere, also shaved his head.

McKenzie, 18 and a senior at UHS, wanted to get a picture of her parents holding hands at their Shelby Township home. Instead, Nancy broke down with emotions and, in an effort to console her, Patrick grabbed his wife and kissed her on the forehead.

It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t anticipated, but McKenzie snapped a picture at that exact moment, capturing the struggle her mom was going through and the support her dad was providing.

In mid-March, McKenzie’s photo of her parents won the National Scholastic Art & Writing Gold Key award for photography. The photo will be displayed this summer at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

“For me, I really haven’t let any of my mom’s struggles get to me, as I have been strong for her and my family,” McKenzie said. “When she started crying, it made me cry and it was the first time I started crying through this whole process. So in taking this picture, I wanted people to know how much strength you need to have during this process with your family.”

McKenzie said that in discussions with her independent studies photography class teacher, Joshua Etheridge, they decided that McKenzie should get a photo of her parents to show their connection and strength through the ordeal.

While setting up the photo, McKenzie said her parents were laughing and talking about how funny setting it up was. But when it came to taking the pictures, she said her mom’s emotions about everything going on came out.

Nancy was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer on the same day her father passed away. And while getting a work-up for the cancer treatment, doctors discovered that she was in heart failure, with her heart only working at 22 percent.

Patrick said they didn’t understand, as his wife was in good shape and there was no family history of heart failure. So the doctors put in a pacemaker, and the diagnosis likely saved her life, he said.

As for the picture, Patrick said that while he heard the shutter of pictures being taken, he didn’t act any differently in comforting Nancy.

“It came out of the blue, and it wasn’t anything we had anticipated,” Patrick said. “It captures a moment in time, and it captures what the whole last year has been for us.”

McKenzie first won the regional Gold Key award for the photo in February, which automatically qualified her for the national award. The awards are presented by the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, which seeks to recognize student artists nationwide. McKenzie said she will go to Carnegie Hall on June 7 to receive her award.

After dabbling in photography for a few years, McKenzie said she really got into the medium as a sophomore and started taking classes in it. Getting the training on how to properly edit and compose a photo has improved her skill, but she didn’t anticipate winning the national award.

Etheridge thought she would definitely get the award, McKenzie said, but told her that there are different judges every year, and so you can never tell. When she found out she won, she wasn’t sure what to do.

“The photo, I didn’t mean to take it, and it was completely different than what I was going for,” McKenzie said. “When I saw my name and that I won the Gold Key, I started crying and didn’t know what to do, so I called my dad. I wasn’t even getting my hopes up 1 percent because it is such a rare occurrence.”

With Nancy now done with chemotherapy, McKenzie said her mom’s prognosis is looking better.

The success of the photo she took has reaffirmed her decision to pursue a career in photography. McKenzie is planning to attend Full Sail University in Florida next year.