The Art of Her Project | Lisa Golembiewski
If you are a mother, you can likely resonate with Lisa's story.
It's a story of a mother watching her child go through something and wishing over and over she could take it away. It's a story of a mother fearful for what may happen to her baby. And it's a story of a mother finding the strength to take it head on and got to battle for her child every single day.
Sometimes as we discuss the traumas and challenges we as women have gone through, it's easy to forget that there is possibly a mom on the other side heartbroken about what her baby is enduring/ has endured.
This is the story of that mom.
This is the Art of Lisa.
This is the Art of Her.
Jessica: Tell us about you, The woman.
Lisa: Hello, my name is Lisa! I am proud mother of two amazing kids. My son, Aden, just graduated from high school and is currently a freshman in college. My daughter, Lane, is in seventh grade. I am a Tucson native, born and raised here in Arizona. I have a very eclectic professional background and thrive in a multifaceted environment to include entrepreneurship. I have achieved success in fields from forensics to funeral directing to college administration. I currently own a custom charcuterie business which I developed in the middle of the global pandemic. I have the distinct pleasure of working for Delta Defense, the service provider for the U.S. Concealed Carry Association. One of my passions is the second amendment, firearm safety and training.
Jessica: Tells us about Your Story.
Lisa: It was January 30, 2015. I was preparing to work security at the Super Bowl in Phoenix. My son, who was nine (9) years old at the time, was on Christmas break and had fallen ill in the past week. He wasn’t eating or drinking and was very lethargic. Up until that morning, we simply thought it was the flu. He had slept over with grandma the previous evening, and when I laid eyes on that morning I immediately realized something was dreadfully wrong. He was gray and frail, his eyes were sunken; his breathing was very heavy and deep and his break emitted a strange odor; an odd concoction of Juicy Fruit gum and acetone. I knew he needed to be seen immediately at hospital. We were on our way when we realized our pace was not quick enough. We pulled over at the nearest fire station for emergency care and transfer to an ambulance. Within two minutes we were in an emergency transport to Tucson Medical Center. A medical team was waiting for us when we arrived at the Children's ER.
The on-call doctor took one look at Aden and immediately asked to test his blood sugar. I thought this was very odd; I was intimately familiar with diabetes as both my father and my grandmother had it. I thought a boy this young couldn't possibly have diabetes; it was an adult disease and affected people who were not in the best of health. Aden’s blood sugar was found to be 668 (normal is 90-180). I knew right then and there Aden was in grave danger. The doctor announced that my son was a diabetic. I couldn't understand it. Aden was in full diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and was being admitted to the pediatric ICU. My head was spinning. I had so many questions and was in denial. How did we go from a health kid to diabetes virtually over night? We were given a litany of information on DKA. In short, his blood sugar was so high it was poisoning his blood, which was becoming acidic. Without treatment, he could die. The doctor told me that had I waited until the next morning to bring him in, Aden would have gone to bed and never woken up.
My little boy, who loved playing baseball and soccer, and was a Boy Scout. Went to church youth group every Wednesday night, and couldn't wait for game time. How could this happen? Why did this happen? What did I do wrong? Aden had all his vaccinations and took vitamins every day. He was a healthy and happy little boy. Aden was on the verge of death, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. As Aden was rushed away, I realized life as I knew it was over. The doctor and nurse gave me so much information it flooded my soul like a sweeping chemical that devoured any sense of the life I had before. I was asked, "Do you understand he is now insulin dependent for life? You will have to administer up to 12 shots a day. You will have to monitor blood sugar 24/7/365. Glucose checks could be up 12 times a day". My body was moving, but not under my control. My vision began blurring and I felt like my soul was tearing into pieces. It's like getting the wind knocked out of you, but worse. It was as if the fabric of my life was being torn and my son was being taken. Not just his wellbeing. His joy. His peace. His security. His childhood. His life. I wasn't just overthinking, I was in full-throttle panic mode. A full on, no holds barred fight for my baby boy. Within an hour, Aden was in a coma. Both of his little arms were attached to countless IVs with half a dozen monitors. He had two nurses that never left his side. I was told he was the most critical on the floor. I stood, helpless, at his side. Praying and crying, crying and praying. At one point I heard screaming. I didn't realize they were my screams. "Touch and go. He’s not out of the woods yet. Time will tell. We are doing all we can”. Every minute felt like a living hell. My little boy, in a hospital gown, who looked so small in that hospital bed. I did what I could to bargain with God. "Please don't take him. Take me. I am ready now”. I thought of my daughter who had just turned 4. I needed to hold her. The thought of her losing her brother made me cry out in what I can only describe as physical pain.
Jessica: Tell me about a specific experience as it surrounds your story of what you had to endure or work through as you pushed to rise?
Lisa: After the diagnosis, everything changed. Every time he ate carbs or sugar, every time he had a meal, he had to pay for it with a shot of insulin. Everything that went in his mouth had to be tracked and accounted for. But that wasn't the hard part. We were now incessantly checking his blood sugar. 10 PM, 12 AM, 2AM or 4 AM, and 6 AM when he woke up. I didn't sleep through the night. At every time I started to walk into his room to check his blood sugar, I would pray that he would still be breathing. I have learned that is an all too common fear among parents of diabetic children.
That was the worst part for me - the thought of my son slipping away in his sleep. Sleep was supposed to be safe and comforting. My own rest eluded me for years. I only slept when another adult was there and awake. I would nap during my lunches at work.
Next came the reality of lost opportunities. I was challenged to navigate staying employed and keeping him alive. I would have to care for Aden via phone calls in the middle of meetings. At times my job performance was questioned due to the illusion of my lack of commitment. The false sense of professional detachment put me on overdrive to over achieve so I could be above reproach. This proved to have its own set of challenges and added to my exhaustion.
For Aden, it was even worse. He struggled for equality at school and dealt with what I refer to as medical discrimination. Discrimination of it all. All of a sudden he couldn't enjoy birthday cupcakes at school because the teacher was too afraid something would happen to him. He could no longer hang out with his friends at their houses, or spend the night, because their parents were too scared to take on that responsibility. His world became so very very small in just a matter of days. "I love you" turned into, "I have to check his blood sugar," in the middle of a baseball game. He would have to explain his medical situation to every adult that came in contact with him. In fact, he had a disease different from everybody else. It was only a matter of time until it be would be apparent that there are certain jobs he simply cannot maintain because of his diagnosis. The story children are told that we can go to college and become whatever we want? That was no longer the case for my son.
Difficult. Annoying. Aggressive. Unreasonable.
Advocate. Warrior. Fighter. Relentless. Resilient.
I have been called all of these while trying to ensure my son could lead a regular life. Women are the greatest warriors when it comes to their children. I am no exception.
Jessica: What surprised you about yourself in the moments surrounding the event?
Lisa: In those moments I was surprised I survived. In the days when Aden was sickest, I would cry out and beg God if he was going to take my son, he needed to take me first. The thought of breathing just once without him was more than I could handle. It would have killed me. That fact, alone, is hard to admit, but it was life or death. It has always been my belief that children are a gift from God. They are on loan to us and put in our care; we are chosen for them. Nine years was simply not enough time with Aden. The thought of losing him, and Lane losing her brother brought unimaginable pain and heartache, the kind that has no end.
Jessica: What surprised you about others as it is connected to your event?
Lisa: So many of our friends, family and coworkers really supported us. I was brought slippers and pajamas because I refused to leave the hospital. Aden had balloon and flower deliveries to his hospital room. People came to visit, or pray over us. We received countless texts and phone calls to let us know that they were praying for Aden, or that they were just thinking of us. I never had to eat a hospital meal as someone always brought meals for me. My sweet friend, Tacia, even brought me a sweet care package with a blanket, lotion, toothbrush, toothpaste, hair ties, hair brush, lots of magazines, and all of my favorite snacks (my favorite item was the cozy socks). An entire village of my loved ones came to rally around me and support my son.
As long as I could remember I was always the strong one; in my family, at work, in my friend groups. Everywhere. I was always described as strong. This event, however, brought me to my knees. I didn't recognize myself. I was a mere shell of who I had been. When I couldn't be myself, others became my strength. All of the most amazing women in my life rallied around me. I was rarely alone. I was so blessed to have my mom, my sister and a handful of friends "stand watch" or vigil at Aden's bedside when I couldn't watch my son fight for his life. Sometimes I would just take a walk down the hallway, or get a cup of coffee, or use the restroom. The idea was Aden would never be alone. If he were to open to his eyes, the first person he saw would be someone he knew, loved, and trusted. Those people were my tribe. I will never forget the love and pure tenderness of these women. I often cried myself to sleep while they stroked my hair or held my hand. But the greatest blessing was my son was surrounded by pure love and audacious hope.
When Aden was out of the woods, I got better, too. We had to take a class to learn how to give insulin shots, to check blood sugar, to count carbs, and to turn carbs into insulin ratios. His hospital room was full of friends and family who showed up to learn to care for him and support me. That was the first time I felt hope. The hope you have is daunting.
During training I shuddered at the mere thought that I had to actually put a needle inside my son's body several times a day to keep him alive was more than I could possibly handle. It is very different when you are an observer in a medical setting. Once we left the hospital, his life was literally in my hands. Each and everyday I had the responsibility of keeping him alive.
After all the training, love and support, above all, I have learned that I am not alone and that, in turn, means my children aren't alone either. I am beyond loved and very well cared for. To my surprise, I have people out there that will move mountains before my eyes to make sure that I'm cared for and supported.
Jessica: Do you feel being a woman had any significant bearing on this event?
Lisa: As women, we are ones that grow these amazing little ones. We are not alone for a single moment for 40 weeks. Our bodies literally freely give whatever the child needs. Providing for this baby from our very core. The majesty in creating and cultivating life is a divine gift given only to women.
No one fights for their child like a woman. In no uncertain terms, being a woman was the most significant attribute I had during this time. The bond between a woman and her child is unwavering and unmatched. The boy that endured this event got all of the best of me. My ability and capacity to love, hope and stand vigil at his side was because I am his mother.
Aden's diagnosis shook me on visceral level. I had no choice but to take his care in my hands. His ability to thrive and function was my sole responsibility. You don't know how strong you are or what you are capable of until you are given no choice. His fight was my fight. The only option was flourishing and thriving. Aden had Type One Diabetes but Type One Diabetes didn't have him. I made damn sure that is how it was going to be.
Jessica: What would you say you learned about yourself or others during or since this event?
Lisa: I have learned that I am stronger than I ever believed. My tenacity is as unwavering as it is ferocious. The ability to endure hardships no longer scares me. My tribe, as people call it, is as deep as it is wide. There are people that love me and would drop anything, at a moments notice, to be where I need them. The discovery of the amount of love my friends have for my children is a thing of beauty. My tribe, my family, is steadfast in their love for me.
I don't just assume I am strong. I am the pillar of strength my children deserve.
Jessica: How did this change you?
Lisa: Before Aden's diagnosis, I was a mom who let her kids try every single sport and club there was. After his diagnosis, I changed.
It's hard to describe, but after Aden's diagnosis I felt intense guilt. I was certain there was something I did during my pregnancy that caused harm to my son. His pancreas failed. Type One Diabetes requires you to be insulin-dependent for life because your pancreas has failed to work. Organ failure. I caused myself migraines trying to figure out what I could've possibly done while I was pregnant with him that would cause it to happen. Nine years after his diagnosis I finally realize that there is absolutely nothing I did wrong. There was nothing I could have done to prevent this.
Jessica: Have your values changed since the event?
Lisa: I now see how valuable time with your children is. You never know what could happen. Looking back, we honestly thought that my son had the flu. We didn't know it was a life-changing disease that nearly cost him his life. Every single day we make a concerted effort to keep him alive. Every day I ask my son about his blood sugar. They say the disease is manageable, but there are days when there is no rhyme or reason to anything. We talk more about his diabetes than I tell him I love him, and that's very hard to accept. I would do anything for a cure. I just hope and pray that in my son's lifetime he'll experience one. Did you know that more children die from Type One Diabetes each year than from childhood cancer?
Jessica: What is the one piece of advice you would give your younger self?
Lisa: There are things that are going to go so wrong, and there are things that are going to go so right. You will have highs and you will have lows. Both of those will shape your character. There will be nights where you will cry yourself to sleep. There will also be mornings when you wake up with a huge smile on your face. Take the good with the bad. Don't be so hard on yourself. You need to treat yourself with the tenderness and love you treat other people with. You deserve grace, you deserve love, and you should certainly respect who you are and what you've accomplished. Don't just exist, thrive. One day you're going to realize what you're capable of and it's going to change your life forever.
Jessica: What would you say has helped you along your healing journey?
Lisa: My children. They have taught me love, strength, endurance, and selflessness. Without the two of them, I would be lost. The capacity for love that they've shown me is truly unmatched.
Jessica: What is your story of now?
Lisa: The story now? My son is an adult who is thriving. He never allowed his disease to hinder him. He has never used it as an excuse or an obstacle. I am certain this resilience came from me. In the darkest times I always instilled in him that he had diabetes, but diabetes didn't have him. I feel like my love and support made my son into a warrior, of sorts. He never let his diagnosis hold him back. This, in and of itself, came from my strength. Had I given into the disease his life would have turned out much differently. Instead I woke up every day and it was my goal to beat diabetes. Every day. If you lead, your children will follow. I had a choice and I chose victory.
Each year we celebrate his Diaversary. Which is the anniversary date that he was diagnosed. We don't celebrate the diagnosis, we celebrate his triumph over it. Aden must overcome and survive each day with a variety of treatments to maintain his blood sugar levels. His life is what we celebrate. As well as tenacity, courage, bravery, fortitude and above all his ability to live on his terms.
Jessica: How would you like people to describe you?
Lisa: This question is a tough one. I hope people describe me as someone who is strong, yet gentle, with a heart of gold. A woman who is both successful and modest, someone who loves deeply and gives of herself. But I would also like to be seen as a woman who is a warrior that holds her cards close to her chest.
Jessica: When in your life, so far, have you felt the most confident?
Lisa: There are a lot of things that I feel so confident about. But the greatest thing is the belief in myself and my self-reliance. I can take care of myself and my kids, and not worry. I am at a whole different level of freedom, whether it be emotionally, spiritually, physically, or financially. All of this came at great costs. There were times I thought I would never see the other side of it. But here I am, through the tunnel, and now I am living in the light.
Jessica: Have your perceptions of what being 'attractive' means changed over time?
Lisa: Of course! I've been plus size for pretty much my entire adult life. I have been very, very heavy; to the point that I had to have weight loss surgery to save my life. My doctor actually told me that I would have two years to live if I didn't do something drastic. So, in April 2021, I underwent gastric sleeve surgery and have dropped well over 150 pounds since. Am I the size that I want to be? Of course not. But the fact that I'm healthy is a HUGE deal. I chose the surgery because I wanted to be strong for my children. It hasn't been easy. It's been difficult at times. But it's been worth it. But they say that anything that's worth it is never easy, right? I used to struggle with the extra skin, my rolls, the extra pounds, and things of that nature. But, it is what makes me, well, me. I'm not any less of a person just because I am more fluffy than the average lady. One of the greatest freedoms I have is being comfortable in the skin that I am in. I love my body; it has been with me every day from day one. It created two amazing children that I love more than life itself. So how can I be so upset with something that's been so good to me?
Jessica: What is an ongoing challenge you face?
Lisa: My ongoing challenge is dealing with my son's disease and the fact that there is no cure. The older he gets, the more freedom he enjoys. I wish he would take care of himself. He has medical freedom to do as he wishes since he is a legal adult now. He's old enough to know better but too young to care.
Jessica: It would be really interesting to hear about any ambitions you have for the future?
Lisa: Currently, I am working in the firearms industry which is heavily male-dominant. The fact that I am accepted and appreciated for being a woman in that role has been very refreshing. I almost didn't apply for the job because I was afraid that being a woman would be a hindrance or a problem. But now I see that the fact that I am a woman will open a lot opportunities for me, and for other women to learn more about firearm safety and shooting sports.
Jessica: Do you believe growing up female affected these ambitions?
Lisa: Absolutely! My father had two girls. He was a car, guy and all man in every sense of the word. He was very concerned that my sister and I'd be able to take care of ourselves in a man's world. We hung out with him in the garage and watched him race cars on Saturday night. We weren't afraid to get dirty or help out. My childhood was all about playing in the mud and being sucked my father side. Saturdays were spent in the garage while he got his race car together to race on Saturday night. I learned how to change oil, change tires, and I even replaced a radiator once. My father was adamant that my sister and I not have to rely on anybody but ourselves . He never wanted us to be taken advantage of or not be able to accomplish something simply because we didn't have the knowledge. He instilled in us independence, ingenuity, resilience, and above all the belief in ourselves. I intern have done my best to instill those exact values in both of my children.
Jessica: How do you think you being a woman is perceived by men?
Lisa: Often times I think I am underestimated. I have always tended to gravitate towards "male professions." Countless times I have been told that a woman doing a certain job is/has been a joke. I was never out to prove to myself that I could keep up with the boys, per se. I often excel professionally, which caused some problems because I was a woman. I often resented the fact that we have to work twice as hard as them men do to get ahead. It has always been my belief that it didn't matter- man or woman, if you have the job, you should be able to accomplish the tasks at hand.
Jessica: Are there any myths you would like to bust about growing up as a female?
Lisa: My amazing dad had two girls. He was a guys guy! He worked on cars, drove semi trucks and got into all the trouble of the true American boy. You could say he taught us to not rely on anybody but ourselves. We had to learn how to change a tire and parallel park before we were even allowed to be considered for a driving permit. He always told us that anything that he could do with his hands, a woman could, too; there were no barriers on what I could learn or what I could do. He instilled self confidence and self reliance into us.
Jessica: If you could talk to advertisers right now about advertising to women, what advice would you give them?
Lisa: Trust us. We know what we want, and we know who we are. Women, as a whole, do not subscribe to the rhetoric of our worth being wrapped up in how we look. Our worth is found in us as individuals. We want to be ourselves and not have to justify who we are. Value what we value.
Jessica: What do you wish other women or young girls knew about themselves?
Lisa: It is my sincere wish that other women, and especially young girls, know that they are the most beautiful beings on the planet. Beauty comes from our hearts and our soul. So don't forget to look inside for your beauty because true beauty is found within.
Jessica: Anything else you would like to add?
Lisa: My children and I are beyond blessed by so many people since Aden's diagnosis. There was no shortage of love, prayers or support. I would like to publicly thank the following people who have taken it upon themselves to love on and care for my son when others wouldn't: Bonnie Langston (my mother), Chrissy and George Van Cleve (my sister and her husband), Dennis Davila, Jill Hansen, Tacia Kissel, Kirstie and Jim Denker, Aimee Hill (Desert Sky school nurse). For those that came along side me during and after his diagnosis thank you for your support, extra supplies and understanding: Kristin Saad, Jennifer Johnson Moore, Jenenieve Cagen, Stacey Douglas, Kim Lonsway and Casandra Franco Verdugo. Thank you for your devotion and care of my son. Thank you for treating him as your own. Making him feel as normal as possible and as typical person not a person with life threatening disease. In turn, your kindness and care towards my daughter did not go unnoticed. She deserved care and devotion too. Thank you for treating her with compassion. You are loved, adored and above all appreciated.
Lisa's absolutely incredible note about her time with us:
One of the greatest steps I could've ever taken in my life was to get that session done with Jessica. I will never again look at myself in a light like I did before that day. Jessica saw me for me and made sure that she showed it to the rest of the world. What an amazing experience and reflection.
....The one thing that I loved about Jessica's work was that she did not remove any of my "imperfections." If I had a scar or a mole or a freckle, it stayed in the picture. It was not softened or lightened or removed in anyway. I was kind of confused by that. But when Jessica told me that she will not remove any part of me from the picture. It made me realize that every facet, no matter how I view it, makes me who I am. Several weeks later when I got the pictures I was an absolute awe of myself. If you know me, you know that I am never rendered speechless. Well, let's just mark that day down in history. My mouth gaped open, my eyes widened, and I stared in complete silence at the final results. I saw the most amazingly beautiful woman that I had laid eyes on in a long time. I could not believe what I was seeing. It was if my eyes were deceiving me. The woman in that red dress was ME. Every minute detail of who I was on the inside exploded into all its glory on the outside in that image. Jessica is absolutely a magic maker! She takes the depths of our beauty and reveals them to the world in photography.
I never dreamed in 1 million years that my pictures would turn out just as amazing as my friend's did. Jessica took just regular, mid-40s me and turned me into an absolute specimen of beauty. It wasn't until Jessica made me realize that the beauty was because of me, and it was mine alone. Sure make up helps, but I realized all I've ever done was enhance the natural beauty that was always there. Something that I took for granted, and never really saw for myself until I saw those pictures. We live in a world today that looks at our outer beauty instead of our inner beauty. If you were to ask my daughter what the most beautiful thing about her is, she'll say her heart. And I'll tell you the one thing that is more stunning than her heart is her natural beauty .
To see everything you're proud of in yourself come out in a portrait is what every woman should experience. The truest form of beauty is when a woman is authentically herself. I am fortunate enough to be able to see myself the way the world does. Without Jessica's knowledge, artistic creativity, and her genuine, love for authenticity I would've never experienced it. I am forever grateful for her genius!
To be fair, this is my third session with Jessica. Each and every time I meet with Jessica at a session, another part of me that I didn't know existed is uncaged. That new piece comes out and I feel alive in a space where I felt empty. I didn't realize how much of my soul was dormant until I had my first session with Jessica. It's like she's a key master and I am the one holding the lock. Jessica makes me feel free. The level of majesty and exhilaration I feel after a session with her is very difficult to articulate. The feeling of my own beauty, freedom, exhilaration, anticipation and essence as a women just floods my soul.
Photography by Jessica Korff Studios
Makeup by: Renee Lanz | Radiate with ReneeJ
Dress Draping: Dresses draped and created by: Jessica Korff
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