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Photographer focuses on hope in pictures that bring the dreams of childhood cancer patients to life

Published: Sunday, March 30 2014 8:52 a.m. MDT

Photographer Jonathan Diaz is using photography to bring the dreams of local childhood cancer patients to life in photos that will be published in a book alongside their stories. Proceeds from the book's eventual sales will go to Millie's Princess Foundation, which raises awareness and provides financial support for families suffering because of childhood cancer.

http://www.jmdiazphotography.com

SALT LAKE CITY — Ellie Porter had never seen so many treats in one place.

It definitely beat the view she'd had off and on from her hospital room where she received treatment for a rare form of kidney cancer since it was discovered last May. The piles and plates of doughnuts, cakes, cupcakes, pies and biscuits covered the countertop — and they were supposedly all baked by her.

"It makes me happy to see her happy," said Ellie's mother, Jami Porter, of Kaysville.

Ellie's wish of becoming a baker might have been make-believe, but it wasn't apparent on her sweet, 6-year-old face.

In a pink, polka-dotted apron and crisp, white chef's hat, Ellie kneaded dough, tossed flour and dripped frosting on the floor like a pro.

It was all part of the setup, made possible by Jonathan Diaz, an East Millcreek lawyer by day and professional photographer by night. After years as a fashion photographer, Diaz decided he wanted his work to mean something more.

Inspired by a Shel Silverstein quip, "… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be," Diaz got to work making dreams come true for childhood cancer patients.

"I can't turn someone into a real fairy. I can't let them fly on a dragon. But it is possible to allude to that as a photographer," he said. "I have a passion for photography and I want to use that passion to make a difference in these kids' lives."

He's hoping the photographs, as elaborate as they may be, will catch the eyes of the public, turning them to the important topic of cancer research, specifically for children.

"Children don't have a voice. They don't have anyone but their parents to stand up for them and fight for them, and, a lot of times, by the time you've been through months of treatment, living in a hospital room with your child, you're exhausted," said Amanda Flamm, whose daughter Millie died from leukemia last year.

The Flamm family was overwhelmed with support from family and friends and, in the end, helped create Millie's Princess Foundation, which provides financial support for families that suffer because of childhood cancer. It also aims to bring awareness to childhood cancer and hope to families that get the unexpected and "life-changing" diagnosis, Flamm said.

The foundation also gives Diaz something to rally for.

Photos of at least 25 local cancer patients — in the midst of their wildest dreams — along with short stories about their experiences with cancer, will be published in a book, the title yet to be determined. Diaz says all the work going into the effort is donated and any proceeds will go straight to the foundation.

"Childhood cancer is horrible and it sucks and it is awful, but these kids have hope," he said. "We have to show that hope to others and get them thinking about it."

And while he's having a lot of fun with the process, Diaz said, the best part is the journey his subjects get to take.

Ellie has been in remission since December.

"She's feeling good and she's really being able to live again," Jami Porter said. "She can do what a normal 6-year-old does and that makes me happy to see."

And while it took a second or two for Ellie to warm up to the idea that she was a world-class baker, as well as the crowd of people it took to create and capture the scene, she was visibly delighted before long.

"You're doing great," Diaz shouted. "It's perfect."

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