Photographer documents parents celebrating life and fighting cancer together

One of our biggest fears is the passing of someone we love. We feel the impossibility of ever letting go. The only thing for certain, is that we would never think twice about spending every day of our lives with that someone until death takes them away.

For Nancy Borowick it was the passing of both her parents. Knowing that she would lose them to cancer was one of the toughest years of her life. A brave and talented photojournalist based in New York, Nancy was dealing with the fact of losing them almost at the same time.

Laurie and Howie met in law school, they fell in love, got married and built a loving family with their 3 children and an unbreakable bond together that lasted till end. She dedicated her life to her children at home and he was a personal injury lawyer. They never thought that at one point in their lives they would be battling stage 4 cancer together.

Laurie was diagnosed with breast cancer since 1997, but during that time she won the battle, was on remission and lived a healthy life, it wasn’t until 2009 that the cancer came back, once again she got on remission in 2010 and a year later it reappeared, this time with no cure. Her daughter Nancy created a photo project for her class at the International Center of Photography. The idea was to share her mother’s story and for her it was a way of coping with the process.

Later on, Nancy received the bad news of her father’s health. In 2013 Howie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Suddenly Nancy’s photographic work took an unexpected turn. It wasn’t about documenting illness; it was the start of a love story, about a family bond, about finding one’s self surrounded by kindness and love. It is a story of humanity and understanding death in a positive and caring way.

“I realized very quickly, however, that the story I was seeing unfold was not just about illness. It was much more than that—it was about getting the most out of the days we had left, as a family, and about my recording of this beautiful and complicated time we spent together. I hoped to capture the essence of who they were, the lives they lived, and the lessons we learned in the process.”

And that’s how The Cancer Family Book was born. The long-term photo-journalistic project narrates the story of her mother and father. From photographs when they met to sharing a session of chemotherapy together, the images are made with such pureness and intimacy and at the same time she captures subtly the raw beauty of life embracing and waiting for death

Nancy started a crowdfunding campaign on March 13th through Kickstarter with the goal of raising $45,000 to publish her book. In only 2 weeks she reached her funding goal. Now, with 652 backers and counting she surpassed her goal and now she is pledging a stretched goal of $60,000 to support a travel exhibition and other public reaching outlets. Nancy’s campaign is now at $58,988 and with still 18 days to go.

The project is about documenting a memory of a life together, focusing on strength, reality, love and compassion, together as a family and individually. “Being a photographer, my camera was the obvious tool with which I created a space where I could be present but also protect myself.” Nancy wrote.

Howie was more of an extrovert and loved to be a funny and joyful character, he enjoyed making Laurie laugh, she was more reserved; she loved to read and was very observant. Howie passed away at the age of 58 in December 2014, almost one year exact before Laurie. 364 days apart. Laurie felt the urgency to express as much as possible how she adored her children, and wanted to teach them every lesson possible. When Laurie’s illness was getting more severe, it started to affect her memory and ability to concentrate or write.

“She had wanted to write letters to us kids but feared she was losing her ability to think intellectually. I comforted her, explaining that we knew how much she loved us and to certainly not feel any kind of stress about these notes. After she died, however, we found notepads around the house full of partially written letters to us.” 

Live in the present. Love fully. Ability to let go. We are all just passing thru… -Laurie 

Nancy was fearless when it came to document every moment possible, happy and sad. One of those happy moments was in October of 2014 when she walked down the aisle with her parents. At one point she felt that, that moment wouldn’t be possible.

Nancy says she hopes to build more outreach for this project and encourage others to get involved as well.   “The book will be used as a tool, and as an example of comfort, community, and strength for those experiencing illness or loss.”

Her work has been awarded and presented at numerous exhibitions, such as Oberstdorfer Fotogipfel Photo Festival in Germany, Visura and National Geographic Proof Contest, 2016 World Press Photo: 2nd place winner in the Long Term Projects Category, among many others. To know more about her published work click here.

To see images of Cancer Family project click here. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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Sophia Montoya
Sophia Montoya is a photographer based in Tijuana, Mexico. She graduated from Universidad Iberoamericana with a B.A in Communications. She currently works as a music photojournalist under the alias of “Zophie Felina” collaborating with bands and documenting the rock and roll music scene. She is Through the Cracks Spanish translator and contributor.

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