07/06/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT
KERI PICKETT, WHO TOOK THE PICTURES of 9-year-old cystic fibrosis patient Shiloh Avery (see page 116), was 28 when she first faced the terrible juxtaposition of youth and illness. After doctors diagnosed Burkitt's lymphoma, a form of cancer, she remembers telling her mother, "I'm too young to have cancer." During her two-week hospital stay, however, Pickett, now 33, saw younger patients whose illnesses were even more serious than her own. She began spending time with children and adolescents who had cancer and other chronic illnesses—and taking their pictures. She is compiling a book of her best photos of children with life-threatening illnesses.
Pickett, whose mother is a vice president with a finance group in Minneapolis (her father, a lawyer, died when she was 6), spent her childhood in Durham, N.C., and in Minnesota. A graduate of Moorhead State University in Minnesota, she interned at The Village Voice in New York City and then became a freelance photographer. Although her assignments for PEOPLE include rap star Hammer, deputy picture editor Beth Filler remembers her for something else. "When I met Keri," says Filler, "she showed me a story she had shot of two brothers with cancer. I was amazed at the intimacy they revealed, at her ability to become a part of the subject's life." Maybe that is because she immerses herself so thoroughly in their lives. She is spending the summer, for example, camping out on the Lakota Indian reservations in South Dakota to photograph medicine men.
Pickett discovered Shiloh after writing to hospitals around the country in search of subjects for her book. Jan Upchurch, an administrator at Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Tex., put the two together, and they quickly became friends. "Shiloh really understands that this lung transplant is her last chance," says Pickett. Shiloh told Pickett about being in the supermarket with her mother, trailing her oxygen tank, and spotting an older woman who was also hooked up to oxygen. It was the first time she realized there were other people in the same situation.
"That was so touching," says Pickett, who has been cancer free for three years. "Sometimes I, too, felt I was the only one. But now I have met all these other people who have experienced the same feelings." When Pickett's book comes out, it will be called I Thought I Was the Only One: Kids Coping with Life-Threatening Illness.