You may not recognize Lora Scantling’s name, but you’ve probably seen her work.
The photographer from Yukon, Oklahoma found herself in the news two years ago after one of her pictures went viral. What made the photo in question so special? It wasn’t a cute baby portrait – though Scantling does specialize in those – or a beautiful engagement series. The subjects weren’t models, celebrities, actresses or rock stars.
Instead, the photo simply featured three, beautiful bald little girls embracing each other while wearing vintage dresses and peaceful smiles. They may not have been rock stars, but they were all battling some form of childhood cancer, which made them little heroes in Scantling’s eyes.
“These little kids are fighting so hard and are so sick yet still smile and have so much spirit,” Scantling tells Guideposts.org. “How can someone not be inspired by that?”
Scantling certainly was, which is part of the reason why she organized the photo shoot.
The wife and mother of two practically grew up with a disposable camera in her hand. She remembers her mother having to buy a new one for her each day after she had filled rolls of film with snapshots of friends, pretty sunsets and her collection of stuffed toys. She began taking classes when she was pregnant with her first child, with a focus on baby portraits.
When her business was just starting, Scantling’s friend hired her to take pictures of her baby boy currently undergoing treatment for cancer. Sadly, her friend’s child passed away just a few weeks later. Scantling recalls how deeply the experience affected her.
“When I gave the parents his pictures, I saw just how much it meant to them,” she says. “Once someone is gone, pictures are all you have left. To see those parents cherish their portraits the way they did just meant more than I can really explain.”
A battle with the disease would affect her own family just a short while later when Scantling’s step-father was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“To watch him go through it so sick yet fighting so hard was just heart breaking,” Scantling says.
Her step-dad would go on to lose his fight with the disease, but as he was nearing the end, Scantling decided to use photography to help her cope with her grief.
“I just needed to do something that captured the emotion I felt inside so I came up with the idea of a group of childhood cancer fighters all hugging because at the time cancer was such a big part of my life,” Scantling explains.
She got on Facebook and issued a call-out, partnered with a local vintage boutique that agreed to clothe the girls and recruited her studio partner to assist her the day of the shoot. Scantling remembers how the young girls (and their mothers) instantly bonded when they came into the studio that day.
“They knew [they] were on the same journey,” Scantling says. “The iconic pose was so easy to get because the girls hugged and just held each other. It was so sweet to watch.”
Scantling says she knew she had something special on her hands when the photos came out but she never could’ve predicted the kind of reaction the picture received.
“Did I ever dream of it going viral? No! I think I went in to shock when it hit 1,000 likes on my page,” Scantling says.
Earlier this month, Scantling got the girls back together to recreate the famous photo for an entirely different reason: all three girls are now cancer-free.
“So many people wanted to know updates on the girls,” Scantling says. “I love being able to do[those] ‘I’m cancer free’ shots. It’s a big deal and deserves to be celebrated.”
Scantling is now taking photos for Ally’s House, a non-profit in her home state that provides financial assistance to families with children fighting cancer.
“I feel like I was given this talent and heart for a reason and being a voice for children fighting through my portraits has really opened up a lot of people’s eyes to childhood cancer awareness,” Scantling says.
She hopes her photos can continue to be the cause for change, whether it be drawing attention to childhood cancer or raising awareness for special needs children, as she’s doing on her newest project. It’s one that hits close to home as the photographer’s eldest daughter has high functioning autism and her youngest has Tourettes syndrome.
“I have always felt the desire to make a difference,” Scantling shares.
Through an inspiring lens, she is.