May 24, 2012 at 11:04 AM ET
The photos show a stout, middle-aged man dressed only in a pink tutu: poised on a diving board, hanging off a tree, wandering through a cow pasture, catching the breeze on a ferry deck - and lying in a bed alone.
Photographer Bob Carey started shooting the quirky, often touching self-portraits back in 2003, right around the time his wife of Linda was told she had developed an aggressive form of breast cancer.
Three years after treatments had apparently obliterated Linda’s cancer, it came back with a vengeance, spreading to her liver. She’s been beating the odds since then, a survivor who lives with her cancer one day at a time.
The photos turned out to be a kind of therapy for the couple, putting a smile on Linda’s face while capturing the vulnerability of everyone fighting a deadly disease. They laugh in the face of death.
"Other people… say 'I wish I could do that because that’s how I feel,'" Bob told Matt Lauer when he and Linda appeared on TODAY Thursday.
When Bob initially told his wife that he wanted to do a series of self-portraits dressed only in a pink tutu, she didn’t blink. “I’m used to Bob,” she told Lauer. “We’d worked together on a lot of creative projects. I was like, ‘OK, where do we get the fabric and who do we know that sews?’”
As the photos accumulated, Bob started a website called “The Tutu Project,” and emails have been pouring in since.
“My dad passed away two years ago from cancer,” one person wrote. “On Valentine’s Day my mother passed away fighting metastatic breast cancer. I wanted to say thanks. I haven’t even smiled since. But you made me laugh.”
Just as some people wear pink ribbons or run 5K races, the pink tutu photos have become Bob and Linda’s way of calling attention to breast cancer and helping raise money for women whose insurance doesn’t cover all the costs of battling the deadly disease.
The website had gone viral and has, so far, raised $60,000.
The portraits have also helped cheer up Linda’s fellow patients. Bob brings the latest photos along with him when Linda goes in for cancer treatments every three weeks.
"I was thinking during the time he was showing it to me, this is the fastest my treatment ever went by,” one patient told TODAY. “I immediately felt, 'I can do this.'"
Behind the smiles, though, there is the ever-present knowledge that Linda’s health could suddenly take a turn for the worse.
“I have a very strong reality of what can happen,” Linda told Lauer. “I can go and get my blood test tomorrow and it can be not good.”
But for now, Linda takes heart and smiles through the dark moments with the help of the man in the pink tutu.
For more information about the Tutu Project, click here.