There is a whole range of feelings that happen with the delivery of bad news. In my case, like many others, knees lock, the heart speeds up and the hairs on my arms get a funny little tingle. My circumstances, however, were a little less expected.
When my dad told my husband and me that he and my mom wanted to come into Manhattan for dinner, I was excited to see them and quickly made a plan for an 8 p.m. dinner at Café Orlin — my favorite for Middle Eastern food. As soon as we sat down, I knew something was very wrong.
My mom had been in and out of breast cancer treatment for 15 years and had been managing and treating the disease like it was no big deal, even though she was just in her 50s. Were they about to tell us that the other shoe had dropped and she was dying? No, this time it was about my dad. He had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. My 28-year-old world shook. We all knew what this meant.
As a photojournalist, I did the only thing I knew: I picked up my camera and documented my parents’ dual cancer treatments for the next 24 months and our lives as they unfolded. From the seven-hour chemotherapy infusions to running errands with Mom according to her to-do lists, I was there with my camera slung across my shoulder.
When I look back on the time I spent documenting these complicated months, I don’t immediately remember feeling scared. I remember the pee-your-pants laughter, high-calorie dinners (as per the doctor’s request, of course), the late-night dance parties in my parents’ kitchen and the never-ending conversations over a cup of Chappaqua roast from Susan Lawrence Gourmet Foods and Bea’s Bakery blueberry pie.
By confronting what I feared most, using my camera as my shield, I was able to move past the trauma that I anticipated and truly enjoy the time we had left together. Had I hidden away from the reality, I wouldn’t have the beautiful photo of my parents holding hands across the chemo chairs as they received their respective treatments.
Was it scary? Of course. When he died in 2013, my dad, Howie, was 58. My mom, Laurel, was 59 when she died one day shy of the anniversary of my dad’s death. But what was most notable was how those final months were filled with love and life.
About the author: Nancy Borowick is a humanitarian photographer 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. You can find more of her work on her website, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.