Beth Pendergrass has faced several life-changing events in just 18 months.
She relocated to Seattle from New Mexico in the summer of 2017 for a new job. Six months later she moved back to New Mexico for another new job.
And then six months after that, Pendergrass, 38, found a lump in her breast. She went to her doctor and her worst fears were confirmed – she had cancer. Pendergrass said she allowed herself time to feel sorry for herself, be down in the dumps and feel whatever other emotion came to her. Then she got down to business.
“I gave myself a day to cry it out and then I said ‘OK. You need to buck up,'” she said. “Then the resolve set in.”
She said the first thing she did was give her husband three rules as she started chemotherapy.
“I asked him to keep the house clean,” she said. “To keep our backyard looking nice and to pretend he didn’t notice if I cried. That I’ll get over it. I just need a minute.”
Pendergrass, who is the chief communications officer for the Rio Rancho Public Schools district, then began researching the disease and learning how others had dealt with the emotional and mental ramifications of being diagnosed with cancer. She said a lot of people talked about using a journal to cope.
“I wanted to document my journey,” she said. “But I didn’t want it to be boring.”
Halloween has always been a favorite time for Pendergrass and her husband, Jamie. She’s become skilled at doing make-up and creating costumes. She decided that’s exactly what she would do. Each week of chemotherapy, 31 as of the writing of this story, Pendergrass has dressed up as a different movie character and re-created a scene from the film. Her husband photographs her and then she posts the photos on social media with a quote from the movie and her reasons for choosing that particular character and movie.
Accompanying a photo of her depicting Jack Torrance leering through the bathroom door in the classic horror film “The Shining,” she wrote, “I said I was coming for you, Cancer, and I have. I am chopping down doors and you can’t escape me.”
Other photos include witch Winifred Sanderson from the old-school favorite “Hocus Pocus,” favorite horror movie host Elvira, Maria standing on a hilltop in “The Sound of Music,” and Napoleon Dynamite from the cult classic comedy of the same name.
Chris Pruitt was living in Idaho Falls in 2011 when his 11-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. He and Pendergrass were friends at the time and she helped him navigate the school system to make sure his daughter could continue receiving instruction when she could not attend class. His daughter has since gone into remission, but he said he understands the power behind Pendergrass’ photos.
“You need to have something to keep your mind off of what’s going on in your body,” he said. “Also having something to look forward to when you have cancer is fundamental.”
Pendergrass said it was her goal from the start to publicly discuss and document her journey. She still has days where she feels anxious, angry, afraid or physically unwell because of the chemotherapy. She has discussed all this publicly but she said her photo project has helped her cope and she hopes has helped other people, too.
“I didn’t want it to be sad,” she said. “I wanted to do something that would make people laugh while being open and honest. I wanted to make it comfortable for people to talk about and ask questions.”
Since starting her project, Pendergrass said several people have reached out to her, thanking her, encouraging her and seeking her advice.
“It’s powerful to me because it keeps me going,” she said. “Those messages mean the world to me.”
Wiley Dobbs is one of those people Pendergrass’ photos inspired. The two worked together for the Twin Falls, Idaho, school district many years ago. Dobbs himself fought Hodkin’s lymphoma 24 years ago. Dobbs said he was worried sick upset when hearing about Pendergrass’ diagnosis. He said her photos, although meant to cheer herself up, have had an unexpected outcome by instead comforting her friends.
“They are inspiring,” he said. “Sometimes they are also very funny. It’s reassuring to us friends that Beth is fighting as hard as she can so she can stay with us. We desperately want that.”
Pendergrass’ photos can be viewed on Instagram at the handle instabeth505.