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Eugene photographer captures emotional Relay for Life memories

Michelle Jackson's photography gear. (SBG, AF)

EUGENE, Ore. -- The Lane County community is preparing to honor those affected by cancer as the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life happens on Friday.

It's an annual event that recognizes those who are fighting, surviving, and have lost loved ones from cancer.

At Relay for Life, Michelle Jackson is usually the one embracing the event from behind a lens. She owns a photography business in Eugene and takes pictures of the event for free.

She also makes the cancer patients in the crowd feel special and beautiful. Jackson has seen friends and family members battle cancer.

It was difficult for her to just sit back and watch, so she did something about it. For the past five years, she's been giving cancer patients a free photoshoot, complete with a makeover.

“Oh, they love it. They love having the images they love; the experience is a blast. Especially the women (that say), 'I've never felt so beautiful in my whole life,’ especially after going through chemo,” said Jackson.

One of her customers is a little boy named Coen, who was diagnosed with a stage three tumor at 20 months old.

He lost his kidney, got the tumor removed, and underwent radiation and chemotherapy.

“He was this very patient kid who tolerated everything really well and we were just amazed at how resilient he was, and is,” said Heather Hinz, Coen’s mother.

Today, five-year-old Coen is a cancer survivor. He will be recognized as an honorary survivor at this year's Relay for Life.

“It's an honor, an unexpected honor for us to be able to take part in this way. It really allows us a chance to maybe process this in a different way,” said Hinz.

It will be Heather and Coen's first time participating in Relay for Life.

Michelle, on the other hand, has provided free photography for many events.

“You watch people celebrate who have gone already and those that are still fighting, and so it's just very emotional on all ends,” said Jackson.

Through the lens, she said she sees tears, laughter, and celebration.

Relay for Life takes place Friday evening from 6 p.m. until 10 a.m. Saturday at the Les Schwab Sports Park at Bob Keefer Center in Springfield.

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