Cancer-Battling Teen Humiliated As Yearbook Photographer Refuses To Take Picture

Teen girls typically put a lot of time and thought into their appearance on school picture day, one of the biggest days of the school year for some kids. Bella Thurston is no different. After the photographer took one look at her, he refused to snap her picture. His reason not only humiliated the child, it has infuriated people across the country.

Bella Thurston Humiliated, Yearbook Photographer Refuses To Take Photo
Bella Thurston (Photo Credit: Kara Thurston via WISTV)

Bella Thurston isn’t a rule breaker, and she doesn’t want special treatment that leaves her singled out among her peers. The 13-year-old understands that school rules are in place for a reason, and typically, they should be followed without question. However, one particular policy left the young girl humiliated, and many believe an exception should have been made.

It was picture day in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Bella had donned one accessory that had become a staple in her wardrobe for a heartbreaking reason. At just 13 years old, Bella was in a fight for her life after being diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, that battle has left her bald. With recent chemo treatments causing her hair to fall out, the teen prefers to cover her head with a hat. This hadn’t been an issue at school — until picture day.

Bella Thurston Humiliated, Yearbook Photographer Refuses To Take Photo
Hoover Middle School (Photo Credit: Google Maps)
Bella Thurston Humiliated, Yearbook Photographer Refuses To Take Photo
Bella Thurston (Photo Credit: Screen Capture/WISTV)

On picture day at Hoover Middle School, Bella said the photographer told her she needed to take her hat off or he wasn’t taking her picture. “He says it’s against policy. And I was like, ‘OK, so I can’t wear my hat?’ and he was like, ‘No, you can go fix your hair, take your hat off or I won’t take your picture,’ and I didn’t let him take my picture because I didn’t feel that I needed to take my hat off in order for him to take my picture,” Bella recalled.

“It was just really humiliating and upsetting for me. I was trying hard not to cry. It was just not a good experience,” the upset teen added as her mother, Kara Thurston, explained, “She has ependymoma, which is a brain and spine tumor. She was first diagnosed when she was 5.”

Bella Thurston Humiliated, Yearbook Photographer Refuses To Take Photo
Bella Thurston and her mom Kara speak out about the humiliating incident. (Photo Credit: Screen Capture/WISTV)
Bella Thurston Humiliated, Yearbook Photographer Refuses To Take Photo
Kara Thurston with her daughter Bella Thurston (left), the hat in question (right) (Photo Credit: Kara Thurston via WISTV)

Of course, Kara was outraged when she found out what had happened to her daughter, Daily Mail reported. “When something happens to your kid that you can’t fix, it’s heartbreaking, you feel helpless,” she said. Indeed, it is upsetting, but perhaps the photographer didn’t realize why Bella was wearing the hat. This is just speculation, of course, but the apology offered by Lifetouch Photography, the company contracted to take the yearbook photos, seems to indicate that might be the case.

The officials with Lifetouch called the situation a misunderstanding, according to WISTV, and said in part, “We have been in touch with the school and have reached out to the family to offer their daughter a complimentary photography session in a place of their choosing. In light of this, we will be revisiting our training protocol with our photographers.”

Bella Thurston Humiliated, Yearbook Photographer Refuses To Take Photo
Bella Thurston had been battling cancer for 8 years at the time of the incident. (Photo Credit: Facebook)
Bella Thurston Humiliated, Yearbook Photographer Refuses To Take Photo
Bella Thurston (far left) once had a head full of long dark hair. (Photo Credit: Facebook)

But, their offer does little to comfort Bella, who says she doesn’t want special treatment because of her cancer. Saying she just wants to be treated like everyone else, she explained, “I would not like to be singled out, I would like my picture to be taken the normal way and to be in the same spot that it always is in the yearbook.”

According to KOAT, a representative from Albuquerque Public Schools said the district met with the photography company about these concerns. The company has agreed that it will continue to train staff who have contact with children. Obviously, this doesn’t correct what happened to Bella, which was an unfortunate and upsetting incident, to be sure.

Bella Thurston Humiliated, Yearbook Photographer Refuses To Take Photo
Bella Thurston (far left, before losing her hair) with her sisters (Photo Credit: Facebook)
Bella Thurston Humiliated, Yearbook Photographer Refuses To Take Photo
Bella Thurston (far left) now prefers a cap after losing her hair to chemo. (Photo Credit: Facebook)

Luckily, this can be used as a learning opportunity for all. Sometimes, we have to think outside the box — or, in this case, outside the black and white rules. Policies aren’t a substitute for critical thinking. Had the photographer simply asked why the girl wanted to wear the hat, this could have been avoided. Or, even better, perhaps the school should have been proactive, knowing this policy was in place and that they had a student with cancer. After all, I’m pretty sure hats in the classroom are typically against school rules every day, not just picture day, yet an exception was made to allow Bella to where hers while attending class.

Indeed, this seems like a failure to communicate, mostly on the school’s part. And, all it would have taken was one educator acting as an advocate on behalf of this child to avoid such unnecessary humiliation. Hopefully, this regrettable mistake will help others recognize a need to step up before another cancer-battling kid is left unnecessarily humiliated. As adults, we need to be aware and ready to stop unfortunate situations before they leave an innocent child heartbroken.