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Green Bay photography studio pays it forward

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – In 2017, Green Bay resident Catie LeSage was diagnosed with osteosarcoma on her pelvis.

“What was thought to be sciatic pain was actually a 10-centimeter tumor that led to many months of chemotherapy, three 20-hour surgeries, a flight for life and three months at Mayo Clinic,” husband Adam LeSage said.

Adam LeSage said the surgery that saved his wife’s life also left her handicapped, without much movement in her right leg. 

“We understand how dark and lonely cancer is, but most importantly what hope can do,” he said. “Experiencing those dark moments, and also those moments where hope and care lifted us out of those dark moments, have steered our lives.”

It’s that hope his family received during the most difficult time in their life, that guided Adam LeSage and his business partner Shana Joseph – owners of Defining78 photography studio – to start an annual Christmas cancer fundraiser.

“In darkness, we all inch towards any fragment of light, to find a glimmer of hope” Adam LeSage said. “We wanted to be that light for someone else.”

For the past three years, the photography business duo has held a fundraiser to do just that.

“We have done a Christmas cancer fundraiser for three years, and have raised nearly $10,000 in total,” LeSage said. “When it was our cancer journey, the kindness of others got us through the darkest nights.  And it is in giving that we receive.”

The photography duo raffled off a free shoot, gathering donations from more than 50 people totalling $5,000.

“We consider photography to be our platform,” LeSage said. “We are the incidental players here, however, and yield all the credit to those around us who gave with big hearts to a family who needed hope at Christmas. We are so grateful for our photography clients, friends and family who have made this giving possible. While we do raffle off a photo and video session to one of the fundraiser donors, the people who give never get to meet the family, and most get nothing tangible in return.”

It is for this reason, LeSage said, they record and share the deliveries.

“When we delivered this amazing gift to these families, we wanted to somehow be able to bring along all the people who had made this possible through their generous donations,” he said. “We wanted to be able to share the joy and thought the best and safest way was to record us doing it. ‘Love Actually’ is one of our favorite Christmas movies and the use of the poster boards was borrowed from a scene in that movie. (By recording it) we were then able to share the experience with those who had donated. We also hoped to inspire others to make a difference in others lives.”

This story ironically involves a little girl the Press Times introduced readers to earlier this month.

The family at the receiving end of Defining78’s Christmas cancer fundraiser this year is that of 5-year-old Autumn Gauerke, who was diagnosed with a rare form or leukemia on Thanksgiving.

“Cancer is a devastating diagnosis for an adult, let alone a 5-year-old child,” LeSage said. “There are enough things to worry about during the rigors of cancer treatment. The least a person should have to worry about dealing with is paying their mortgage, bills, groceries, etc.”

LaSage and Joseph delivered the donation last weekend, accompanied by their children.

“My son Faron and two of Shana’s four kids, Wren and Harlow, were with us,” he said. “We live in a very consumer-driven society. We wanted our children to participate in giving.”

LeSage said In many ways, paying it forward honors the people who helped them out in our darkest moments.

“We find some healing in giving,” he said. “Giving defines our lives and helps write the legacy that we will leave to our children. When it was our cancer journey, the kindness of others got us through the darkest nights. And it is in giving that we receive.”

The name Defining78, too, has special meaning to LeSage and Joseph.

“The average life expectancy in the United States is 78 years,” LeSage said. “The name Defining78 is a reminder to ourselves to make those years count. We are a team of people who try to stay cognizant of the fact that we all have a finite amount of time in this life: to accomplish everything we want to, to spend time with the people we love most, and to impact or improve the lives of others. We have found photography not only to be our passion, but to be the vehicle that helps drive our ability to outreach.”

To watch the video of the donation, visit Defining78’s Facebook page.

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