Duluth photographer gets creative after cancer cancels tripDuluth-based landscape artist Gage Salyards had saved up enough money to travel to New Zealand to study with an influential travel photographer when he found the lump at the base of his neck.
By: Christa Lawler, Duluth News Tribune
Duluth-based landscape artist Gage Salyards had saved up enough money to travel to New Zealand to study with an influential travel photographer when he found the lump at the base of his neck.
The photography workshop fund quickly became the cancer treatment fund.
So Salyards set up a crowd-sourcing fundraising site offering prints in exchange for donations and sent letters to friends and family. Three weeks after undergoing surgery for papillary thyroid cancer, Salyards has raised enough money to make the trip. He spent part of Thursday night packing.
“It’s really humbling,” said Salyards, his voice still raspy from the surgery. “It’s, I don’t know, emotional, overwhelming — those are the three words that come to mind. It’s mind-blowing to know that there are so many people out there who know me and care about me and support me. It’s brought me to tears many times over the last 30 days.”
Salyards planned to leave on the first leg of his trip on Friday and will begin the 25-hour trip from Colorado to New Zealand on Monday. He will attend a weeklong group workshop with photographer Trey Ratcliff and then spend another week taking solo day trips around the south island.
Salyards, a travel aficionado, started his own landscape photography business about a year ago. He specializes in merging multiple exposures, a technique called high-dynamic range (or HDR) imaging that creates great color contrasts in his work. A sunset on the South Shore of Lake Superior has distinct shades of yellow bleeding into shades of orange and all the gray, blue and whites of water are sharply defined.
“I’ve always worked toward developing my own style and trying to instill the feelings and emotions I have at the time when I’m taking the photograph,” Salyards said. “Or the things I’m going through or just the overall feelings and atmosphere or place when you’re taking the photographs.”
Salyards had plans to travel to Bozeman, Mont., in the fall to live and shoot photos for a few months. Then he planned to move on to the workshop in New Zealand.
Then, while shaving: “I noticed a good-sized lump at the base of my neck on the left side,” Salyards said. “It was protruding more than the right. I showed it to a few people and everyone said, ‘You’ve got to get that checked out right away.’”
He was diagnosed with cancer.
Salyards began his own natural treatment at home, doing cleanses specific to different organs, eliminating acids and processed food and eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains to boost his immune system. While he had more energy, it didn’t change the lump. He ended up at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, where he had surgery on Jan. 9.
The status of the trip
Salyards said he has the go-ahead from his doctor to make the trip if he feels up to it. Having it on the horizon, Salyards said, has helped him in his recovery. It was important to have something to look forward to.
“He never lost sight of his dream,” said Kim Nordin, a longtime friend who was there for the diagnosis, surgery and treatment. “Throughout the whole thing he’s kept his focus on what he wants to do. He’s never stopped believing he could do it.
“He’s the most positive person I’ve ever met in my life,” she said. “Even cancer, for most people, would send them into the darkest part of themselves. Throughout this whole thing he’s been calm, collected. He’s rational. He’s got so much faith in just everything working out and things happening for a reason. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he decided to use it as a lesson or an experience.”
About a month ago, Salyards approached friends with an outrageous question: How to re-raise $10,000 in 30 days so he could take the trip, since his savings had been depleted.
“When he first said it, I said, ‘You’re nuts,’” said Crystal Pelkey, who became friends with Salyards after setting up an art show with his work in the atrium at the Zeitgeist Arts Complex in December 2011.
Salyards set up a site on the crowd-sourcing website gofundme.com. Contributors receive incentives in exchange for donating to a project. He spent three days working on a letter to family and friends, many of whom didn’t know what he was going through.
“It was important to not get into that place: asking for pity money — poor me, I have cancer, give me money,” Salyards said. “That’s not where I was coming from or where I wanted to go. I was very aware of the delicate balance. You really tip-toe the line when you send a letter like that. It was important for me that people got something in return.”
Salyards ended up putting up prints of his work in exchange for donations.
While Salyards was recuperating in a bed at the Mayo Clinic, his phone kept alerting him to the donations that were rolling in. Within the past few days, he topped his goal.
“Out of the woodwork,” Salyards said. “People I hadn’t seen in forever donating and contributing. It was incredibly emotional and overwhelming. It was so integral in getting me through that period and getting me home and on the road to recovery.”
The support didn’t surprise Nordin, who said the whole thing is enough to restore a person’s faith in human beings.
“Anybody who knows him would want to help him and knows how important this is to him,” she said. “It’s not just a one-time trip to New Zealand so he can lay on the beach. It’s the beginning of his future and his career.”