On In Travel & Photography

Love and Loss: Couple Battling Terminal Cancer Photographed By Their Daughter

Nancy Borowick, born in 1985 is a humanitarian photographer currently based on the island of Guam. She is a graduate of the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism program at the International Center of Photography and holds a degree in Anthropology and Photography from Union College.  Over the last ten years, Nancy narrowed the focus of her work, telling stories of illness and personal relationships, using compassion, humility, and trust as tools to connect with and explore the lives of her subjects. Nancy’s most recent focus has been her parents’ battles with cancer.  In the Spring of 2016, Borowick raised USD 65,313 with the help of 740 backers through a Kickstarter campaign created to fund the development of her book, The Family Imprint, based on the Cancer Family project. When Nancy Borowick's parents were both diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, she knew they didn't have long left. The then 28-year-old said: "I didn't know what to do, or how to support them without falling apart." The freelance photographer started to take pictures as she always had of Howie and Laurel and the images became a poignant record of her parents' final months. 

Nancy Borowick

She is a regular contributor to the New York Times and has also been featured in the International Herald Tribune, the New York Times Lens Blog, CNN, National GeographicPROOF, Time Magazine, Photo District News, the Washington Post, Stern Magazine, and Newsweek Japan. 

1. Capturing home 

The pictures were taken in the family home where Nancy and her siblings grew up and are candid and intensely intimate.

2. My mum battled breast cancer for 18 years

Nancy said: "My mum had battled breast cancer for 18 years so it was part of our lives but when my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer it was more likely that he wouldn't be around for long. To be honest I didn't think he would last as long as he did."

3. The duo 

The photographs show the couple having treatment together as they battle the illness at home and in hospital.Via Nancy Borowick

4. "Always had a camera slung over my shoulder"

Nancy said: "The project came with such great responsibility. I had always had a camera slung over my shoulder and so they were used to me taking pictures and it allowed me to spend time with them both.

5. Fun parents 

"They were both such fun to be around. My mum particularly didn't want anyone to be bothered by her illness, she didn't want pity."

6. These photographs 

"It became a window into my parents as humans."

7. Howie died in 2013

Howie Borowick died in Dec 2013 almost a year to the day after he had received his diagnosis, but Nancy kept shooting.

8. 5,000 pictures 

In total Nancy took more than 5,000 pictures of her parents battle and this is just a small selection.

9. Breathtaking 

Nancy's parents do not shy away from the camera, and sometimes the pictures make you catch your breath.

10. It's a combination of pain and laughter 

They are seen clearly in pain and battling but also laughing.

11. She loves them

What is clear is her parents love for each other and also the way she loves them.

12. "I treated her as a normal mum"

Nancy said: "My mom never let on about much pain she might have been in. She did not want to be defined by her disease. She wanted to be treated as a normal mum, so I treated her as a normal mum."

13. Growing closer 

She said throughout the process she grew closer to her mum and dad and wanted to show support as they had for her growing up.

14. Do not take any day for granted 

Nancy said: "The greatest gift I take away from this whole experience is that I now have an understanding of what life means... of what is important... to not take each day for granted.

15. "I already feel I have lived a pretty lucky life"

"If cancer is what gets me, so be it. I already feel I have lived a pretty lucky life. I loved my parents. I love my siblings. I love my husband."

16. Painful times 

The pictures show the couple when they are so sick they can't sit up. It's just so painful at times. 

17. Intimacy

In the end, it is the intimacy in the way the pictures capture such a personal event that gives them their power.

18. Experience 

Nancy said: "Remember that life is short. Maybe you don't need to wait until your loved one is dying to have this true experience of life."

19. Finding comfort 

Nancy says she never intended to share the photographs but showed them to an editor who told her "people will see their story in yours and find comfort."

20. Publisghing 

She ended up publishing her book after raising money on Kickstarter.

21. Overwhelming 

She said the response since publishing it has been "overwhelming" .

22. Grieving 

She said: "I have people write to me from all over the world saying things like 'I have never shared this with anyone before' and telling me how they have been grieving for their parents."