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SoCal Connected

Program Teaching Children With Cancer to Widen Their World Through Photography

When a couple lost their young son, Pablo, to a rare form of cancer they were devastated. They were also moved to give back. Their son, Pablo, loved photography, so his parents started the Pablove Shutterbugs program. It gives other children with cancer the opportunity to learn photography. The children use cameras to widen their world, forget their illness and express themselves in new ways.  Their remarkable photographs are displayed at a special gallery show that reveals their unique way of looking at the world. The money raised from the photographs goes toward children’s cancer research. Reporter Derrick Shore tells the story of how a heart-breaking loss has been turned to service.


Derrick Shore: Opening night at a gallery isn't an uncommon occurrence -- especially in a big city like LA. But this gallery opening is a little different and that's because the photographs here were created by some very special photographers. Tonight's a big night for 22 young photographers. They're here because they all have one thing in common -- they have cancer. But why a gallery show? Well... It all started with a little old boy named Pablo.

Jeff Castelaz: Pablo never walked anywhere that he could run, and he never walked around something that he could climb up and jump off of, never.

Derrick Shore: Jeff and Jo Ann are his parents.

Jo Ann: He loved to read, he loved to be read to, he loved books.  And he was a costumer like, loved a costume.

Derrick Shore: And...he often had a camera in his hands.

Jeff Castelaz: Pablo loved taking photos and he loved sneaking Jo Ann's phone and taking photos of the dog's nose or whatever.  This childish curiosity is what our son embodied, beautifully. This is at a wedding and he's grabbed a camera off the table.  This is what he was taking a photo of.

Jo Ann:  I was for sure one of his favorite subjects.

Jeff Castelaz: Right. Yeah. That's a little boy and how he sees his mother, that's not just any old photo.

Derrick Shore:Just before Pablo's 5th birthday Jeff noticed something unusual.

Jeff Castelaz:This lump um was protruding from his abdomen and I -- I will never forget I called Jo Ann on her cell phone and I said did you see this I mean I don't even know how to describe it this lump in his belly.  We went into the ER, they checked him out, and they said he needs a CT scan.

Jo Ann: And then they come in and you can see it's just as painful for them to tell you.

Jeff Castelaz: Oh, yeah. Without a doubt, without a doubt.

Jo Ann: It's cancer.  I was holding Pablo he was asleep they're like you need to come up, we’re going to go upstairs, and I remember like I can't stand, like my legs won't work.  I didn't know how to move, I didn't know how to hold him, I didn't know how to walk down the hall, and I just kept thinking there's no way. This is not really happening.

Derrick Shore: Little Pablo had kidney cancer.

Jeff Castelaz: At that point in time all you're hoping for is that it's like a nightmare and you're waking up and someone says oh you know what we got the wrong file.

Derrick Shore:Within hours of his diagnosis, Pablo was getting his first dose of chemo. Over the next 9 months he would also undergo radiation and 5 surgeries. Pablo lost his curls but he kept his smile... Right until the end. He died 6 days after his sixth birthday.

Jeff Castelaz: All I think about all day every day is I want my son back. It's an irrational desire, it's not gonna happen.

Derrick Shore: Jeff and Jo Ann put their music and TV careers on hold while they grieved. Meantime -- friends, family and even strangers were donating to a charitable account in Pablo’s honor. They didn't pay much attention until a few months later....

Jo Ann: We were blown away, I mean we did not have any idea.

Derrick Shore: That account had been filled with a staggering $250,000.

Jeff Castelaz:What we both felt was we need to be in service. We need to just be in service, we need to give back to other people.
Derrick Shore: Their way of giving back was to create a nonprofit that funds promising childhood cancer research… and their idea caught on. That year they raised more than one million dollars. But Jeff and Jo Ann wanted to do helping young cancer patients keep their minds off the disease through the arts. Pablove Shutterbugs was born.

Jeff Castelaz:In order to be a Pablove Shutterbugs student, you have cancer. That's the one rule we have, right? 

Derrick Shore:The program matches young cancer patients with professional photographers.

Jeff Castelaz:When you put a camera in a child's hand you would be blown away to see how much they light up.  Perhaps they're no longer a kid with cancer, for an hour a week or two hours a week as they're doing their assignments. They're a photographer.

Derrick Shore: What's your favorite stuff to shoot?

Parker: Uh... landscapes.

Derrick Shore: Landscapes? 15 year old Parker is one of the shutterbugs. He showed me some of what he's learned in the program.

Parker: The difference between these two settings is basically the shutter speed is faster on sports.

Derrick Shore: Parker has medula blastoma: brain cancer.

Parker: The hardest part is just how much everything has changed, cuz before I was diagnosed I was going to school and everything and then now I'm not going to school.  It's definitely harder.

Derrick Shore: Instead of school, Parker goes to Houston for treatment.

Kevin: You know you just keep plugging along and -- you know – uh, one day at a time.

Derrick Shore:It's not easy for his family

Kevin: He isn’t going to school now and he doesn’t get to see his friends as much as he’d like to so it gives him another way of uh expressing himself.

Derrick Shore: Looking thru the lens has taught Parker to see his world in more detail. Has it made you look at your surroundings any differently?  

Parker: Yeah, like, if something is different or abstract, just take a picture of it, because you probably won't see it again.

Caren Eckburg: From the get go he was a natural and he has an eye.  It's something that even if he's fatigued, even if he's not feeling his best he can kind of escape through the lens.

Derrick Shore: The result? Parker's portfolio is filled with beautiful images like these. Back at the gallery show... Parker's mentor David explained that Shutterbugs students have a unique set of challenges.

David Reeve: Their world is a small space. It's a bedroom, it's a couch, it's a bed, it's a kitchen table and that was the case with Parker.  It started at the kitchen table.  

Derrick Shore: Parker even used one of his toy cars to create an image that looks life-size. That photo is being showcased tonight and it was featured on the event's invitation.

Parker:  It was a very, very, very cool experience and I learned a lot. And I think the coolest thing that I learned was just understanding what pictures can mean.

Jo Ann: Watching the kids come in and see their work on the wall and run over to it and just have this really proud moment with their family.  It’s incredible.

Derrick Shore: They're so excited JoAnn: I know they're very excited. The money raised tonight will go right back into the Shutterbugs program.  And a dozen chapters have popped up in cities across the U.S…. letting kids be kids and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Jeff Castelaz:The work that goes into the gallery show, those things become precious memories for the family. 

Derrick Shore: Pablo may be gone but his view of the world has been preserved in the photos he took.

Jeff Castelaz: When Pablo passed away we sat and looked at hundreds of photos that Pablo took on our phones and on our digital camera and they were incredibly powerful -- it was gut-wrenching to us.

Jo Ann: I don't want anybody else in this club, I don't want to meet another mother that lost her child, it's too much.

Derrick Shore:  What Jo Ann does want is something doctors couldn't give Pablo.

Jo Ann: A cure. Like, that's what we all want, that's what every parent that is told their child has cancer wants. Like, you want to know that there's hope and that somebody is searching for that cure.

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