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 Taylor Zoitos, 10

Diagnosis: Congenital diaphragmatic hernia

Prognosis: 50 percent survival rate

Outcome: 10-year survivor

I didn’t set out to be a photojournalist, all I knew is that I loved photography and taking pictures became the way I understood the world and expressed myself. Photojournalism found me. It was the last class I took hoping I could avoid taking it all together. I was more impressed by fine art photography at the time. So, it took me a couple of years to realize what  really is important when doing the kind of job that I do. I was confused and overwhelmed by the possibilities; spot news, war photography, sports, features… etc.. I wasn’t sure wether I wanted to focus on one these or just embrace the fact that as a pj, you really have to be able to do it all. I went through periods of time fantasizing about the idea of covering the next big conflict, but I was quickly snapped back to reality by my two kids who did not think that was such a good idea. All this time I was taking for granted what I now know to be the most rewarding part of this job, the people I have met, the stories they have allowed me to tell, the friendships that I have forged through the years. I set out to make a difference in people’s lives, but it has been them who have changed me and shaped who I am as a person and as a photographer.

During the fall I was assigned to tell the stories of 14 Long Islanders who were giving grim diagnosis and little to no hope of survival. While staring at death, with unimaginable courage they fought for their lives and came out victoriously.

Their stories inspired me, and I hope they can inspire you as well.

To learn more about them please watch the video below and go to  Newsday to read their stories.



Brian Appel, 24


Diagnosis: Stage 4 Burkitt’s lymphoma


Prognosis: 20 percent chance of survival


Outcome: 16-year survivor

Diagnosed with cancer at age 8, Appel had intense chemotherapy, 26 blood transfusions and numerous MRI and CT scans and was told he had a high chance of becoming a paraplegic.

Flo Puff, 70


Diagnosis: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia


Prognosis: 50-50 chance of survival


Outcome: 36-year survivor

Flo Puff credits her return to health after leukemia to the support of family, friends, co-workers and others around her and adds: “I was in constant prayer myself.”

Debbie Blick, 54


Diagnosis: Breast cancer


Prognosis: High risk of recurring breast or ovarian cancer


Outcome: 15-year survivor

Blick decided to have her breasts, ovaries and fallopian tubes prophylactically removed in order to save her life. She said that one of the toughest things for her was to learn to accept her new image refusing to let cancer define who she was as a woman.

Ali Bie, 20


Diagnosis: Omphalocele and hole in heart (atrioventricular canal defect)


Prognosis: Loss of speech and mobility; permanent feeding tube


Outcome: 20-year survivor

A college junior, Ali Bie said she wants to help others and hopes for a career in musical therapy

Gary Klausner, 47


Diagnosis: Cystic fibrosis


Prognosis: 6 months when added to lung transplant list


Outcome: 14-year post-transplant survivor

After a double lung transplant, says he’s busy making memories with family, like playing tennis and coaching his boys’ sports teams

Genie Scharf, 70


Diagnosis: Stage 4 ovarian cancer


Prognosis: 3 percent survival rate exceeding 5 years


Outcome: 8-year survivor

Genie Scharf and her family enjoy a Sunday dinner at her home in West Islip. Her advice is to live each day fully and try not to put anything off for too long.


Mary Taylor Joyce, 75

Diagnosis: Pulmonary tuberculosis

Prognosis: 3 months to live

Outcome: 58-year survivor

Mary Joyce, grandmother to nine, says she’s had “the world’s best husband for 54 years.”

Erin Zammett Ruddy, 34


Diagnosis: Chronic myelogenous leukemia


Prognosis: Four to 7 years


Outcome: 11-year survivor

Zammett Ruddy, horsing around with her children, Alex, 5, and Nora, 3, is considering having another child.

Anna Kaplan, 60


Diagnosis: Ovarian cancer


Prognosis: 50-50 chance of survival


Outcome: 10-year survivor

Anna poses  with her grandchildren Sydney, 1, and Drew, 4, she cites good luck and support in her recovery.

Tricia Shannon, 61


Diagnosis: Diabetes


Prognosis: Death by 16


Outcome: 56-year survivor

Tricia Shannon and her husband, Ron Geraci, often take long bike rides from their Huntington home; exercise is key in controlling her diabetes, she says.



Sandy Psomas, 63


Diagnosis: Brainstem glioma


Prognosis: 3 months to live


Outcome: 28-year survivor

Sandy Nicholas Psomas, a former NYC Transit Police officer, was diagnosed in 1984 with a deadly brain tumor. He now enjoys going to the shooting range and reminiscing about old times.


Janet Shavel, 64

Diagnosis: Stage 4 leiomyosarcoma

Prognosis: 3 to 6 months to live

Outcome: 5-year survivor

Hospice was called in for Janet Shavel, but she decided to get another opinion and chemo — and then went to church.

One Comment

  1. janet shavel

    Aleiandravilla – you did a great job if just one person fights a little harder and has been helped it was all worth it -it is so overwhelming more than letters typed on a paper or in a newspaper could make one understand. I hope to help more people having a new life ahead of me–Janet Shavel

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