Model: Emilie Erickson
AML leukemia
Santa Cruz, California

My name is Emilie Erickson and I am from Santa Cruz, California. I am currently studying at the University of Miami as an “exchange student” in the architecture department, but my home school is California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo. I am a 4th-year architecture student and I am 21 years old. When I was 10 I was diagnosed with AML leukemia and due to complications from the treatment I underwent, I suffered something like a chemical spinal cord injury. I now live my daily life with an L2 incomplete spinal cord injury, as a paraplegic. This basically means I am fully ambulatory except for my legs but I havent let it hold me back yet.

I carry myself in a way that attempts to disregard my disability as a restriction in my life, but instead as a simple description of me. When working with Belle we wanted the pictures to express that. Not particularly focused on my disability but not hiding it either. I wanted these photos to attempt to show a pure sense of an individual. That is, I think the message or sentiment that I want to express. It is fairly simple. That being in a wheelchair isn’t my only characteristic but it is one of many that makes me who I am. And that those with disabilities are not defined solely by their disability.

Living with “invisible”, chronic, rare diseases has taught me how easily pain can be hidden. It’s much simpler to pretend to feel fine in an effort to fit in in college, but I have learned it is better to be your authentic self. Just like my portrait, sometimes you have to put life on pause, close your eyes and take a deep breath.


Photographer: Belle Fitzpatrick