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Elyssa Explains, The Kivii Life

March 3, 2021

Why wedding photography is so important to me

Why wedding photography is so important to me: A brain surgery story & the WHY behind Kivus & Camera

Watch my awkward video up there! Talking about my experience with the diagnosis and surgery that changed my life (spoiler alert: for the better). Today is the 7 year anniversary of my surgery and I wanted to talk about how it changed my life and how it became the WHY behind Kivus & Camera and cemented why wedding photography is so important to me.

I’m also learning more about creating video content, so voila.

But if you don’t want to watch 18 minutes of me talking into my camera, and prefer the written word, here’s basically what I said:

Hi, today is March 3 and that means it’s the 7th anniversary of a really incredible neurosurgeon (s/o to Dr. Hadar at UNC) cutting into my head and taking some cancer out of my brain.  It was a good day back in 2014, and it’s a good day now. 

I always take this day to reflect on that experience and how it impacted my life. I don’t think anybody is surprised that a caner diagnosis really changed my life. When you hear someone had cancer, you expect to hear that it changed their life. But what does surprise people is that, for me, the cancer diagnosis ended up changing my life in a really *positive* way. 

The reason I’m making this video and why I’m putting it out on the Kivus & Camera channel is because while I’ve written about my cancer diagnosis and surgery before, I’ve never written too in depth about how it completely altered the course of my life. Or the fact that it is the WHY behind Kivus & Camera

Basically, being diagnosed with cancer took me from what was shaping up to be a long career as a divorce attorney to running a successful wedding photography business instead. So I like to say, I was a divorce attorney, I had brain surgery, and now I’m a wedding photographer. 

To understand let’s go all the way back to high school, when I had dreams of becoming a newspaper journalist (I was going to be a writer AND photographer) and then a dream that eventually I’d transition to law. Essentially I had two coexisting dreams (journalist and lawyer) and figured I’d do one for a while before doing the other. At the time, I had this thought — and I think it’s a thought a lot of people have — that to be a successful person, you have to be a successful doctor, successful lawyer, CEO, etc. That there are these “big special jobs” that make you successful. So, I had it in my head that because I loved mock trial, my big special job would be as an attorney. 

Things started out well enough, I got into UNC for journalism school and loved it. I loved getting to create. I loved getting to write, getting to take pictures all the time. I loved working for newspapers during school. Everything was good. 

But the timing wasn’t great. I graduated undergrad in 2009 and with that was good news and bad news. The good news was that the Tar Heels won the national championship and I got to rush Franklin Street a month before graduation. The bad news was that it was 2009 and newspapers were dying. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think journalism will ever fully die (tangent: if you can support local journalism, please do, it’s important), but the 2008 recession fundamentally changed the face of journalism. And when I graduated it was really, really difficult for even experienced journalists to get work. I had one journalism job offer for post-graduation and it was for an unpaid internship. So yeah, journalism was not in the cards in 2009. 

That’s okay, I thought, let’s fall back on the secondary dream – I still like the idea of being a lawyer, so let’s speed it up a bit and go to law school right away. So I stayed at UNC for another three years and got my JD. I passed the bar and a variety of factors led to me beginning a career in family law. That’s divorce and child custody and the like. 

But just a few months into practicing I was MISERABLE. I took me by surprise. I didn’t understand why I was so unhappy. I LOVED LAW SCHOOL. I LOVED DOING MOCK TRIAL. I LOVED ALL OF MY INTERNSHIPS. I LOVED CLERKING FOR A JUDGE. Everything up to that point law-related I had truly loved. So when I didn’t actually love practicing, I didn’t understand it. 

With hindsight, I can see that there were a lot of factors that contributed to that feeling of misery. But there were two important ones:

  1. I was surrounded by other miserable people (dealing with child custody issues can turn even the nicest person into a jerk at times). You’re dealing with a lot of negative emotion and as an empathetic person, I was internalizing all of that negativity.
  2. The other big factor was that I no longer had a creative outlet. I had set my cameras aside some time in law school and I just never had the time to get back to photography. I missed it so much but reasoned that I just needed to put my head down and work hard to become a successful attorney and then I would eventually have time to return to things like hobbies (which at the time I thought was the only thing photography was). It’s always that chasing success feeling. I didn’t know what success meant to me.

But then. I had a seizure. Lots of scans and scary conversations later: it’s a tumor in your brain and we don’t know whether it’s malignant or not. The neurosurgeon gave me three options: we put you on anti-seizure medication and just watch the tumor to see if anything else happens. We drill into your skull to biopsy the tumor. Or we cut your head open and take the tumor out. I said, put me on the calendar for that surgery ASAP. 

And so he did. I had brain surgery. 

And it was scary, but more so after the fact. Things moved so quickly from that initial seizure to the actual surgery (not even two weeks) that I barely had time to process that my head was going to be cut open and a surgeon would be carving a tumor out of my brain (along with some healthy brain tissue to be on the safe side). 

But once I started to process it (and once we got the biopsy results back that it was in fact cancer that Dr. Hadar had taken out of my brain) I realized something fundamental: I didn’t want to be miserable anymore. I finally, truly, deeply, understood the phrase Life is Short. Yes it’s cliche, but y’all it is cliche because it’s true. That moment of clarity led me to decide I should stop being miserable, which I was, practicing law, and that I should and go back to something that really brought me joy: photography. 

It just so happened, really fortuitously, that a friend was getting married on a shoestring budget that year and asked if I would just bring my cameras because she knew I had a journalism background. I said sure. I was fully surprised at how much I loved photographing a wedding. I had never considered it before because I had internalized all these weird ideas of what success meant and wedding photographer didn’t feel serious or important enough to be “success”. But that was obviously a silly thought and it turned out I really loved photographing weddings. So, I started telling more people that I loved doing it and soon enough I was booking more and more weddings, to the point that I was able to quit my law job in 2017 and take Kivus & Camera full time.

I quit the law and became a wedding photographer because I was diagnosed with cancer.

SO yeah, the why behind Kivus & Camera is that our time is really, really fucking valuable. And not in the hustle culture sense. That’s the popular way to think about it right now: time is money, let’s get that productivity down, let’s go, let’s go. I mean that time is valuable in the sense that it is absolutely a finite resource. And none of us have any idea just how finite. 

At the end of the day life is really fucking short. And because I’ve recognized that, I know I want to experience as many joyful moments as I can in the time I have. We all should want that. So please – be joyful. Find your person. Love on them as hard as you can. Celebrate as many joyful moments as you possibly can. Because time is valuable and our time together is even more valuable.

And so, our goal at Kivus & Camera is to capture that joy and preserve it so you can revisit those priceless moments as often as you want. My why is that I want you to have art of you loving on your person because because that’s the whole purpose of life. The purpose of our finite, valuable time together is to find joy in each other. And it sounds so mushy gushy, but I truly believe it. And I’m not thinking about it in a sad, tragic way. I’m thinking about it in a look at how precious these moments are kind of way. I want you to have a lifetime of beautiful, joyful moments, but try to be in those moments and really be internalizing and holding on to them. Because joy is the purpose of everything. 

I know this is long, but that’s my why and I wanted to people to understand why Kivus & Camera is so important to me and why wedding photography is so important to me and why I think everyone should be choosing happiness. And if you’re in a spot where you’re really miserable right now, talk to me. Life is too short to be miserable and time is too valuable to waste it on things that don’t matter. 

So there you have it, that’s my experience. That’s how brain cancer changed my life for the better. I think that’s incredibly special. I’m so glad that Kivus & Camera was born from the moment of clarity and realization that our time is so valuable and I want to do something important and joyful with my time.

I’m eternally grateful to all of the couples who trust me, who trust Kivus & Camera, with their memories, with capturing these priceless, joyful moments. It really brings me so much joy every time we’re at a wedding.

Life is short, so be joyful.


THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for reading. If you made it all the way through this or watched the video, I am truly grateful. As I said, I know that time is valuable, so I truly appreciate that you took the time to hear about my experience. Please feel free to talk to me about it! I’m as open of a book as I can be.


We believe that love is bright and colorful, and your wedding photographs should be bright and colorful too.

Kivus & Camera are Raleigh Wedding photographers who create bold, colorful, magical memories of your wedding day with beautiful, artistic portraits AND enthusiastic, genuine moments. Your unique love story deserves to be told through unforgettable, breath-taking photographs that stand out from the crowd. Kivus & Camera love creating that magic. After all, as past bride Courtney says, we’re photography sorcerers.

And though we call ourselves Raleigh wedding photographers, we definitely photograph Durham weddings, Chapel Hill weddings, Cary weddings, etc. We’re all over the Triangle area, and we’re happy to head to the beach or mountains and even to places outside of North Carolina! Just let us know where your love story is headed.

Want to know more? Check out more of our images or learn more about our nerdy selves or just send us a note! Can’t wait to hear from you.

  1. Claire says:

    ❤️❤️ I believe you have just answered the question “What is the meaning of life?” Also, thank you for the clarity of your thoughts. It helped me connect the different thoughts that have been floating around in my head for a long time but I couldn’t quite piece them together. I’m sorry you had such a scary experience. You are lucky that you’ve realized this so young.