In the summer of 2014, I introduced a personal project that I started with my friend, Hoddy Potter, the Hoddy is…documentary photography project. Hoddy was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin follicular lymphoma, grade 2 stage 4 in March 2014. Here was this woman, a young mother, wife, successful business owner, vibrant member of the community, a strong advocate for health and healthy living, handed a devastating diagnosis while continuing to shine her bright, beautiful light into the world. Hoddy let me into her life to document and share what life looked like when the term “cancer” is added to it. On December 17, 2015, after an arduous battle with a particularly wicked cancer, Hoddy passed away.
That last sentence. I can’t type it without stirring the deep sadness within me that rises up like wave, lodging itself uncomfortably in my throat and blurring my vision. I’m not sure there will ever come a time when those words won’t incite that reaction. Hoddy left a special imprint on my heart and I miss her deeply. Hoddy was one of those people that made you feel good just knowing she existed, just knowing that someone so wonderfully awesome walked this planet was inspiring and provided evidence that such a phenomenal level of awesome was actually achievable by mankind after all. Hoddy’s brand of awesome was rare in that she wanted to share it. She wasn’t content keeping it all to herself, she wanted to bring everyone along on the journey to awesome with her. She was a rising tide, lifting all ships along her way.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to have developed a friendship with Hoddy. She was such an inspiring, determined, independent, witty, generous, charming and passionate person. I am also grateful for the insights, encouragement, friendship and helping me rediscover my voice. Hoddy gave me some truly remarkable gifts that I feel so fortunate to carry with me each day.
The gifts of understanding and compassion
The list of things I didn’t know about cancer and the impact it has on the mind, body and spirit is long. In fact, I didn’t know what I didn’t know before starting the Hoddy is… project with Hoddy. Photographing Hoddy as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, business owner, health and fitness champion, advocate and as a cancer patient gave me such insight into the significant impact cancer has on all aspects of life. It touches every single part of you and no matter how hard you fight to keep it from impacting your children or your spouse or your business, you simply can’t. And for someone who strives for balance and control, it is unsettling to know that not only is this disease manipulating and controlling your body, it has pushed itself beyond your body and into everything you do. Cancer is a heart-breaking, soul-crushing, flagrant, relentless, unscrupulous, devious, shameless, unpredictable, thieving beast. It takes and takes and takes, blazing a trail of fear, pain, and uncertainty through a perfectly normal life. It sends you searching for answers in your past, upends your present and threatens your future. It takes its hefty toll on the body which you learn can withstand more than you every imagined. The mind and spirit, on the other hand, can be slower to heal and can carry the memory of scars long after the ones on the body have faded. Hoddy shared her experience with me because she wanted others going through the same thing she was to know what it was really like and for their support systems to know too. I am so grateful for the gifts of understanding and compassion that Hoddy shared with me.
The gift of gratitude
Hoddy embodied an attitude of gratitude. She was grateful to her parents for her childhood, her education, their support. She was grateful to her husband for believing in her and creating their beautiful family together. She was grateful for her Bar Method family and community. She was grateful for her friendships. She believed that she put her real self out there and formed long-lasting relationships with people that made her feel really good. She was also grateful for her color coordinated closet, Whole Foods, encouraging messages from her people, sneakers with a heel and the color pink among many other things. I am grateful for Hoddy’s attitude of gratitude and the gift of her great example.
The gift of friendship
Hoddy was a very dear friend to me. I treasure the time I spent with her and the great impact she made on my life and my photography journey. Hoddy was a community builder, she created connections where there were none and brought people together. Hoddy once mentioned that she didn’t really know how people felt about her until she got sick. And even then, she didn’t really know how people saw her. I knew there is no shortage love for Hoddy and her fan club ran deep and wide. Anyone touched by Hoddy’s charm and magnetic personality soon realized that to know her was to love her. Her optimism, energy, passion, sense of humor and loyalty were inspiring and completely endearing and I thought she needed to know that. I set out to show her. I reached out to her friends, family and Bar Method community and asked for people to send some love back to Hoddy. 100 Days for Hoddy was the result and I loved receiving all of the messages for Hoddy, often with stories behind how the person knew her or how she impacted their life.
Because of Hoddy, I have met some really beautiful and amazing people that I may have otherwise never crossed paths with: Hoddy’s mom, Ann, Susie, the Bar Method Kansas City crew (circa 2012-14) including Lizzy, Amy, Erin, Sara, Melissa, Courtney, Stacy, Angie, Sarah, Laura, Cary and Jeanette, Stephanie and the great instructors of Bar Method Naperville, Emma, Danna of Bar Method Highland Park, Dori, Nancy, Rebecca and all of the people I’ve met through those Hoddy-sponsored 🙂 connections. In late 2014, my college roommate and her family moved to San Antonio, Texas where she knew no one. While chatting with one of her new neighbors, my roomie discovered that her new neighbor was a former Bar Method Kansas City client and knew Hoddy and had followed my Hoddy is… project. Such a wonderfully connected world we live in which we can only discover when we reach out to others. I am grateful for the gift of Hoddy’s friendship and the people I’ve had the honor to create connections with because of her.
The gift of encouragement and unabated enthusiasm
Back in December 2014, Hoddy sent me the following email: “YOU are amazing. My mom and I agree you are the best writer that I personally know. You should write a book. Tears today when I read that and,wow, emotions JUMP off those photos you took.” I so wanted the Hoddy is… project to be a project that would be meaningful not only to me but to Hoddy and her family and the community. Hoddy’s enthusiasm from the very start for this project served as such inspiration to me. The more time I spent with her, the more I saw into her world and the more I observed during her journey with cancer, the more clarity and strength I found in my own artistic voice. Shortly before we moved from Kansas City, she told me that when she first met me, I was quiet and reserved and she had no idea that a witty, silly, fun, outgoing person lurked beneath that quiet facade. She encouraged me to leave the reserved, guarded persona behind as I made a fresh start in a new town with new people. “The fun Alise is way better anyway,” she said. I’ve reread our email and text correspondences and gone over my notes I jotted down after our photo sessions and I hear her voice, her laughter. I am so grateful for Hoddy’s encouraging words and her enthusiastic support and love.
Below are some of my most favorite images from the time I spent with Hoddy as well as a little video reel I created to honor her. I wanted to truly capture Hoddy’s incredible personality: her zest for life, her charm, her silliness, her determination, her love of family and friends, her enthusiasm, her strength, her beauty, her vulnerability, her realness. I don’t think Hoddy was the type of person who woke up in the morning and said she was going to live everyday like it was her last. That just doesn’t seem to fit her. I think she woke up and lived. She lived with purpose, kindness, great big dreams and the determination to turn them into reality and with love. She once told me that she thought I was doing what I was born to do, storytelling through written word and photography, and she hoped that people would say that same about her with the community she built at Bar Method. Hoddy was absolutely doing what she was born to do and that is evidenced by the great trail she blazed through life, touching lives and leaving an imprint on the heart of every person she met. I never envisioned all of the amazing gifts this project has brought into my life but I am incredibly grateful for them. I am grateful for Hoddy’s life and the inspiration her life has given me. And in Hoddy’s honor, I will continue to spread the light and love she shared with me with the rest of the world. I’m going to live it with love.