One can only truly understand and appreciate life when faced with one’s own mortality. Nobody wants to talk about death, but it is one of the only things that is certain in life, so an awareness of this finitude allowed my family to take advantage of the time they had left together. Cancer Family, Ongoing is the story of family, looking at the experiences of two parents who were in parallel treatment for stage-four cancer, side by side. The project looks at love and life in the face of death. It honors my parents’ memory by focusing on their strength and love, both individually and together, and shares the story of their final chapters, which came to a close just 364 days apart from one another.
“Life is a gift, and no one promised me longevity.” These are the words, spoken by Howie Borowick just a few months after he was diagnosed with inoperable stage-4 pancreatic cancer. Having lost both of his parents before his sixteenth birthday, he understood the fragility of life. He never wasted a day, thinking each would be his last and when his cancer arrived, his bucket list was empty. The only thing he was not ready to leave behind was his wife Laurel, the love of his life, who had been managing her disease—breast cancer—for over 17 years.
Our story looks at the simultaneity of life—the good, the bad, the important, and the frivolous. Laurel and Howie chose to spend their last months creating new memories rather than cowering in the reality of their situation. They were married 34 years, and suddenly their time was up. Howie passed away on December 7, 2013, one year and one day after doctors discovered his cancer. After this, life changed for Laurel. Having been half of pair for over half of her life, she was now a single. It was in this time that her disease began to worsen, and her quality of life diminished. She wasn’t scared of death—she’d been preparing for it since her first diagnosis at age 42. She was scared of the process of dying, and losing her ability to think, love, and communicate with her children.
With a 30-foot length of oxygen tubing trailing behind her, Laurel spent her final weeks surrounded by those who loved her, and whom she loved. The pain worsened and the breathing became more labored, and soon she no longer had the strength to get out of bed. Having chemotherapy meant having hope, and chemotherapy was no longer in the cards. Laurel took her last breath on December 6, 2014, just a day shy of the one-year anniversary of her husband’s passing.
I photographed my parents to hold on to their memory, and to capture their essence and strength in such a trivial time. Everyone wants to find purpose in his or her life. My parents’ final purpose was found in this moment, in this gift that they gave to me: allowing me to tell their story—a love story—and the story of our family and the legacy they have left behind. When time stops, what was all of this for? They did it for us.