Written by Penni Gladstone, the San Francisco Chronicle photographer whose pictures of Alicia were part of Alicia’s Story.
Wait Alicia, don’t go, we still have to get another gelato to eat. When we were in Italy we would indulge every day sometimes twice a day. While in Florence I followed her as she and her friends danced in the street, and danced down a flight of church steps.
I first met Alicia in an airport with her dad. We flew to Texas to visit MD Anderson Medical Center where I was to begin the documentation of a young girl with cancer. We walked in with great hope, and walked out with less. The doctor told her there is no cure. Dave and Alicia hugged each other, cried, held hands and prayed. Soon after, we all jumped into our rented car and drove to the Space Center in Houston. Might as well make the best of it. She played hard, as she knew it wouldn’t last.
I shadowed her to the Safeway Marina with her roommate as they shopped for vegetables and maybe a cute guy. It was nighttime. The best time. Alicia would cozy up on her couch with her roommates to watch the TV. One night as pizza was served I noticed the girls dug in, but Alicia prayed before touching her food.
I have many favorite photographs of Alicia. One is of her with baby bear while she had her hand on her bible before going to sleep. Not sure what gave her the most strength, the toy or her bible. Another favorite shot was made late one night in the Mission District. I met her at 10 pm at a party. But by mid-night her pumpkin had arrived and she needed some air. Alone, she stepped outside on the street and leaned against the wall of the house. A street light fed her warmth and she glowed.
Alicia felt pleasure and pain. Some like pain. It gives them pleasure. Not here, as the pain would creep in while the pleasure was in living life. When Alicia had a doctor’s appointment or a “procedure,” her dad was often with her. The two were attached at the hip. Oops, I mean her good hip. A few times no one was available. She was frightened. She would ask me to go with her and I made it an assignment.
She spent a long weekend at a home in Sea Ranch donated to her for the weekend. Friends poured in. It was one big slumber party. She was surrounded by love and laughter. She was flying from the lollipop that had painkillers in it. She jumped across tide pools and marveled at the sunset.
I remember when Matthew, Dave and Alicia went to the local park and shot off a rocket. Alicia jumped for joy following it up to the heavens.
I also followed her to her mother’s grave. She talked to her mom and put flowers at the site. Then she proceeded to go back to her car, get a blanket, a box of strawberries and a drink. She spread out the blanket just so, and spent time with her mom. She lay down on the blanket and cried. Alicia reached for her mom with an arm on her grave.
What is painful is that the SF Chronicle forgot about her when she left. Now they want to write about her dying as if she is still theirs.
I remember her asking, “Will they forget about me?” She often felt alone with the weight of cancer.
Alicia has many friends. But it’s hard when you have cancer. At times you do feel very alone. People who you thought were your friends never call. Maybe it’s because they are afraid.
I am grateful that I was chosen to shoot this assignment. To spend time with Alicia.
Pennie’s photographs that accompanied the original article series in the Chronicle (navigation is in the bottom right-hand corner): http://www.sfgate.com/gate/special/pages/2005/alicia/gallery_0417.shtml
Penni’s work may be seen at http://www.pennigladstone.com/.