• October 19, 2015

A Daughter Pays Homage to Her Parents With an Intimate Look at Love and Loss

Nancy Borowick is the winner of “Assignment: The Story Behind the Photographs,” a photography contest hosted by Visura, a networking platform for photography and media and judged by National Geographic Proof editors.

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 we 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.

Howie and Laurel embrace in the bedroom of their home. March 2013.
About to start new rounds of chemotherapy treatment, Howie and Laurel take a last-minute trip to Florida. Life was about to change dramatically for the Borowick family, and one quick escape from reality was necessary for the mind and body. January 2013.
In his kitchen, Howie breaks into a bouncing dance to hopefully get a smile out of Laurel. February 2013.

“Life is a gift, and no one promised me longevity.” These are the words, spoken by my father, Howie Borowick, just a few months after he was diagnosed with inoperable stage four pancreatic cancer. Having lost both of his parents before his 16th 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.

With all the strength they could muster, Laurel and Howie walk with daughter Nancy down the aisle, holding her close as they lift her veil and greet her fiancé in front of the chuppah. Knowing that his disease was progressing fast, Howie cherished every moment as he knew it would be one of his last good ones. October 2013.

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 a 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 of losing her ability to think, love, and communicate with her children.

Laurel rests on the shoulder of her son, Matthew, as they ride in the limousine to her husband’s burial. December 2013.
Buried in his favorite Giants jersey, baseball cap, and jeans, Howie was laid to rest. He always liked to have the last word, so his funeral concluded with the eulogy that he wrote himself months before he died. December 2013.

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.

Celebrating her 59th birthday, Laurel spends the day with Nancy at a ceramics studio. Tumors in her hip and pelvic areas made it difficult for Laurel to walk, so it was hard for her to do most activities. March 2014.
After changing Laurel into clean clothing, Paul, her son-in-law; Jessica, her daughter; and Evalina, her caregiver, gently lay her back into her bed. December 2014.

I photographed my parents to hold on to their memory, and to capture their essence and strength in such a trying 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.

The project has not ended with my parents, however. As the title suggests, the family story is ongoing. I have been looking at the experiences of my siblings and me as we have had to deal with things like clearing out and selling our family house; deciding what goes on Mom’s headstone; taking care of our grandmother, who is still vivacious at 88; and preparing for new life as my sister is due with her first baby, just three weeks shy of the anniversary of our parents’ deaths.


Laurel passed away one day shy of the anniversary of her husband’s death. Her body was wrapped up on a stretcher and carried out of her home. December 2014.
“It was a strange feeling, to be back in the temple, saying goodbye to one parent after having done the exact same thing one year earlier,” says Nancy Borowick. Laurel’s funeral brought many of the same faces the family had seen one year earlier, when they said goodbye to Howie. December 2014.

I have been allowed to honor my parents and the lives they lived. I want to pay it forward, and offer that same gift to those who have gone through the death of loved ones but maybe never felt they were able to have that closure or understanding. My next steps will be to begin asking others to share their stories and family photographs, which I plan to include in my upcoming exhibitions and presentations. My hope is to create a platform where people can come together as a community and no longer feel alone in their grief.

Nancy Borowick’s full project is viewable on her website, here. If you have a story you would like to share, you may contact Nancy at info@cancerfamilyongoing.com. You can also connect with @cancerfamilyongoing on Instagram and Facebook.

There are 41 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Bryan
    November 10, 2015

    Thank You! The love my life passed away in 1994 at the age of 30, I was 32. People often ask me why I haven’t remarried, or even dated. You answered that question perfectly. When it’s true love it doesn’t end when one passes, It lasts forever. Bless you and your family.

  2. leroy lighty
    October 28, 2015

    Thank you Nancy, for helping me to understand one of the mysteries of love. I was 19 years old when my father passed from mesothelioma in 1964, at the age of 45. My mother never remarried even though she lived until the age of 90. I believe that love is the most lasting and eternal experience that we human beings share, I believe it is the reason for creation, and that it transcends all things. Thank you for sharing your blessing.

  3. peggy
    October 27, 2015

    Thank you~

  4. Lillian Randazzo
    October 27, 2015

    What a wonderfully loving and heartbreaking story! While it’s never easy losing a parent, I cannot imagine losing both, especially in such a short time of one another. May God help you and your family to keep all the good memories and help you heal.

  5. Chrisy
    October 27, 2015

    Oh Nancy, thank you. It must have been so hard for you at times to keep going with the photographs but you did and they will be a gift to anybody who looks at them. Blessings to you.

  6. Elle
    October 26, 2015

    Indeed, this was a beautiful story, they were so young. Death is indeed an enemy and is certain to happen until God brings an end to dying, this will happen soon. Some will not die, as the earth will soon be brought back to the way it was in the beginning. People who love God will be able to see their dead loved ones rise from the grave, and have the prospect of never dying again.

  7. Krishna
    October 26, 2015

    these pictures speak for the deep, intense emotions for which we sometimes do not have enough words to express….

  8. cecilia
    October 25, 2015

    I love so much this history.I think that live when if were the last day, it is a good idea.

  9. Jaime
    October 25, 2015

    Breathtaking photos. I’ve never seen images so emotionally raw and beautiful. Thank you for sharing with us all.

  10. Barbara
    October 25, 2015

    Stunningly beautiful. Patient endurance, love into eternity, death with dignity indeed.

  11. Bruce
    October 25, 2015

    An incredible love story. As many of us have learned, death is universal, not caring about calendars or convenience. Our 33-year-old son died of a brain tumor 6 years ago, leaving behind 3 children, age 5 and under. Then a year later my wife almost died as her system began to shut down from lupus. Fortunately, a wonderful naturopathic doctor – a profession the medical community does not recognize – saved her life.

  12. Anne-Marie
    October 25, 2015

    A beautiful story, thank-you for sharing. I sat and cried as I read your story but it also made me happy to witness the love between your parents, your siblings and your love for your parents.

  13. Myrt Rollins
    October 25, 2015

    So glad you were with them during this sacred time in their lives and yours. Both they and you were so very blessed to have each other!

  14. Mary Blake
    October 25, 2015

    And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.

  15. Julie Barnes Weaver
    October 25, 2015

    (I had to compose myself before I could compose my note… ) Because I work in an oncology clinic, I see this decline in persons I’ve grown fond of, over time (including my mother, who died from breast cancer 43 years ago). This is a beautiful, loving tribute to two persons and their life together. The photos are wonderful testaments to love. May their memories be a blessing for the family.

  16. Ray Martin
    October 25, 2015

    I should be so fortunate to receive such a loving and brilliant tribute from my children when my time arrives.

  17. Thomas Gray
    October 25, 2015

    Beautiful pictures. Courageous people. Rest in peace.

  18. Atul Mamtora
    October 25, 2015

    It shook me up , I live with death of my mother in periodic glimpses of life experiences.Sometimes she is mad at me and sometimes she takes care of me.How lovely to see these photographs.

  19. Rashid Mukoon
    October 25, 2015

    Really touching,my prayer s with you and your family/

  20. Kalicams
    October 25, 2015

    I cried. Beautiful story. God bless you.

  21. Seema Manchanda
    October 25, 2015

    Thanks , your story is very touching, I saw t death of both my grandmother & my husbands grandmother. I was with them when they took last breath. My innocence or .. tried to stop them from dying & we all could see the power of life coming back & stopping when I was praying & crying & telling them to not to go, not to leave us.And they did stop for few seconds , we saw the bright light back in their eyes but one of my elder stopped me & told me to let her go peacefully & than the light shooted from the eyes and they were gone…I cried I felt bad how could their our children allow them to die. But they told me let them rest in peace ,free them from pain that they were suffering in their old age…. But till today I feel bad even after 38years and 15years of their death. They came thrice in my life after death but I was so scared to hug them….. Again I lost them & didn’t understand Why I was not brave enough to welcome them. Why even for a second did I close the door, Why was I afraid of the Bright light and the white cow than. But when again I opened the door she was gone. SHE CAME in the form of white cow and same bright light which was their in her eyes in her last second of breath….But I got scared …..But I love her I say to myself than why was I not brave enough to accept her, welcome her after her death.why did I close the door even for a second…….0

  22. Elizabeth C
    October 25, 2015

    Thank you so much for sharing your parents journey into the not so kind world of cancer. I hate cancer, and yet caner helps make the most of the time one has left with a loved one. We recently lost our beloved Siberian to cancer. His journey lasted 16 months, the best of times to pay homage to our friend, family member, pack mate and protector. May you and your family find peace knowing that your parents are no longer suffering from the pains associated with treatments, and that one day you will all be reunited with them. Bless all of you for sharing.

  23. Peggy
    October 25, 2015

    Beautifully portrayed!

  24. Sabine
    October 25, 2015

    In a time when a lot of us prefer not to think about death and not having to deal with it, this is a very humane and bravely told story. Thank you very much for sharing this intimacy.

  25. Margaret watson
    October 25, 2015

    Loving and touching story thank you for sharing. Our family is caught in the same cancer spiral, with my husband of over 40 years slowly fading from us. We keep the fight and the hope with chemo even tho he is on his last possible chemo plan. He states he doesn’t want to die and it is a very difficult time. He has been my husband my partner my love my entire adult life. Find a cure for this horrendous disease let’s not let future generations suffer

  26. Joan Collins
    October 25, 2015

    Your story is indeed heart wrenching, I do know how it feels. I lost my daughter to cancer at age of 57, then a year later my cherished husband of 45 years to pancreatic cancer. This happened 7yars ago for my daughter and 6 years ago or my husband. I still miss them both terribly, they say it gets easier but there is such a void in my life. What helps me is that I still have six wonderful children. Their love helps me tremendously. Thank you.

  27. Margaret J
    October 25, 2015

    This is a most beautiful tribute to two people whom you obviously loved dearly. Thank you for sharing this – it is deeply moving.

  28. Deborah Gutierrez
    October 25, 2015

    What a beautiful seed your parents planted in your heart. I love the smiling faces at the memorials – truly celebrating a life of love. I lost my precious father in 2005, at the age of 64, 1 week from being diagnosed with AML. My mother passed in 2009, at ,68, from diabetes complications.

  29. Michele S
    October 25, 2015

    So touching and beautifully done. Death, like cancer, knows no boundaries – white or black, rich or poor, educated or not. All can relate to your photos and story and find meaning.

  30. Mel Lindsey
    October 25, 2015

    This shows that you can create a blessing out of a curse. A wonder tribute to love.

  31. BigCat33
    October 25, 2015

    When you say their names or tell their stories, they live. Well done. They are smiling…

  32. Hugo
    October 25, 2015

    Thankyou for sharing this story. It’s one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read, it moved me to tears and I don’t cry easily. I lost my dad to cancer and it changes you but to loose to parents and to document the love and beauty of their relationship is such a brave and amazing thing to do.

    October 25, 2015

    These moments capture the very essence of life and death…the stark reality that we all choose to knowingly ignore…completely teared up in my heart…simply hits at your heart…

  34. Anna
    October 25, 2015

    A loving tribute to parents who left a legacy of love shared by

  35. Dave Scriven
    October 23, 2015

    This is an amazing tribute to amazing parents. I just lost my wife nearly two months ago after a 10 month battle with Leukemia. Your story and photos brought back so many important memories. Her journey closely parallels your parents. I cried. Thank you.

  36. Jodie James
    October 20, 2015

    Beautiful and heart breaking in equal measures. You have captured life and death in such a way unique way, Nancy. A well deserved win but more importantly a loving way to to remember two wonderful parents.

  37. val
    October 20, 2015

    Beautiful way to deal with adversity.

  38. Veronica Siguencia
    October 19, 2015

    I love how this is the other side of cancer that many people don’t see. My father passed away from cancer as well, but his last days were one of the best moments we had together. Our family is very united and his illness just brought us closer. Each day and each moment were lived as if it were his last. The day of his passing is something I dreaded, I didn’t know how I would react. My mom, my sister and I were with him as we saw him take his last breath. We saw him at peace with no more pain and that took all the pain away from our heart. He is greatly missed but he continues to live on in our hearts.

  39. Alba Cruz
    October 19, 2015

    This is what I consider being rich! Having the strength to love and cherish life until the very end… Beautiful story and beautiful work Nancy! God bless you!

  40. Silas S
    October 19, 2015

    It is heartwrenching to learn about the loss of both her parents to cancer. Although there is no person intelligent enough to find some way to overpower this deadly disease, there have been people who have lived longer with cancer. I think you should work with some of those closely associated with Linus Pauling, who even won the Nobel prize many times. He died of cancer. He experimented with megadose vitamins, especially those of the citrus family, while another part of the scientific community literally mocked at him. This might also help her imagine another big story for documentation, at the same time keep an eye on the big picture which rarely comes to notice.

  41. esmeralda lopez ochoa
    October 19, 2015

    vivimos como si fueramos inmortales…pensando siempre en el futuro sin saber que el futuro es el siguiente segundo que estamos vivos.

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