A window to hope: Photographer Scott Wilson documents his cancer journey with nature photography from the car

The chemotherapy treating Scott Wilson’s stage IV colon cancer made his face ruby red. In the sun, it got worse. His face would develop acne-like spots, and patches of his beard would fall out. Doctors strongly recommended staying in the shade.

But that was a problem. Wilson’s life passion is landscape photography, from sweeping vistas to intricate flora close-ups—most lit by the sun. A Scottish transplant to Denver, where he is a global vice president for Molson Coors, Wilson is a well-recognized photographer overseas.

After moving to Denver three years ago, he earned accolades for his photography there, too. He often woke up at 3 a.m. to capture the perfect sunrise.

“That certainly wasn’t an option anymore,” Wilson said.

After his diagnosis, it was easy to avoid the sun at work.

“I’d park in an underground garage, take the elevator up to my office, and be able to work in the shade all day. But, when the weekend arrived and the outdoors beckoned, I suddenly found my creative outlet was limited and the cancer threatened to place a drag on my normal life.”

But the wildlife on Wilson’s Colorado doorstep signaled another possibility.

“Unless someone told me, Scott you’re finished, start making plans, I was never going to be finished,” he said. “So, I just resolved to live as real a life as possible and that included fueling my creative passions.”

Hummingbirds, which don’t exist in Europe, stood out for Wilson, and he was captivated by the frenetic, colorful creature. He realized he could take photographs of them and other animals—sometimes juxtaposed with stunning landscape shots—through the window of his car in nearby parks, like Cherry Creek State Park and Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.

“Capturing the beauty of the wildlife in Colorado was as satisfying as any other creative outlet I’d had over the last 20 years,” Wilson said.

Wilson set up shop inside his car, capturing scenes like a falcon sweeping the sky, a coyote on the hunt, and a snapping turtle, soaking up the sun that Wilson couldn’t himself. Pressing the shutter on these scenes instilled the sense of normality Wilson was looking for in the midst of his battle. These creatures, and Wilson’s journey, would soon help other cancer survivors, too.

As he shot nature in the Mile High City, Wilson learned more about the long wait, disrupted by a fleeting second of action, that comprises a perfect nature shot. Such patience led to a landmark photograph that features three roaming bison in the foreground, with the Denver skyline and Rocky Mountains in the background.

“The car become a bit of a cocoon,” Wilson said. “The access and ability to roam, as well as the shade and comfort. The car gave me a chance to explore more and discover more.”

After colon surgery and 40 weeks of chemotherapy, culminating in being declared “NED” (no evidence of disease), Wilson shared his photographs with the world via a photo-book called “Through the Window – A photographic tale of cancer recovery.” It’s a compelling visual journey through Wilson’s year-long triumph over cancer.

All sales proceeds from the book and associated prints are donated to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, which is working to end colorectal cancer through increased screening, funding critical research, and providing support to patients, families, and caregivers.

While Wilson says producing the book was an exercise in personal therapy, he also wants it to provide hope to others on their own health journey. The choice to photograph animals from his car—when he could have easily shot landscapes, architecture, or anything indoors—speaks to the emotional value of the photo-book.

“If you’ve been to a landscape and seen a picture of it, you can have a connection to it,” Wilson said. “You can also find that same emotional connection with wildlife even if you’ve never seen the animal in person.”

Importantly, the connection can open people up to talking about cancer. Wilson’s mother also had colon cancer—a disease that can run in families—and she became isolated after her diagnosis. Wilson said he didn’t want that for his family—especially his wife and children—and he didn’t want it for other people.

“From day one, I always thought cancer is a very difficult conversation, and I found through my photography and through the pictures that people find it easier to talk about cancer,” Wilson said.

And, he said, they have. He’s received numerous messages from people who have read the book or heard Wilson’s story through a wide range media generated by Through the Window.

“The last year has been very life-affirming and unusually positive for me,” he said. “Although I’ve had the darkest medical battle I’ve ever had, if I can just give people a drop of that hope in their own health journey, this is incredible fulfilling.”

2 replies
  1. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I am a fiber artist and recently bought a camera. Life is really about our passions: pursuing them and sharing them.

  2. Megan Spears
    Megan Spears says:

    It’s great to see that you didn’t let your dx hold you back, but perhaps, open up new doors. I look forward to following your photography on Instagram!


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