A Mosaic: The Many Faces of Cancer

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Editor’s note: “The Many Faces of Cancer” portrait collection is on display at the Level 1 entrance of the Duke Cancer Center, in the concourse between Duke Clinic and Duke Medicine Pavilion. On June 3, 2020, the Cancer Center celebrates Cancer Survivorship Day. (The captions below were revised in February 2020 to provide updates on each person.)

When Duke photographer Jared Lazarus began a journey to show the varied faces of Duke Cancer Center, he thought he would be inspiring patients. Instead, they transformed his outlook on life.

Layla Smith, now 9, of Hope Mills, North Carolina. Layla is in remission from acute lymphoblastic leukemia and enjoys playing with her puppies, singing, dancing and making YouTube videos with her friends. Photographed January 26, 2016.

“My hair was past my shoulders. I got sick, and after chemo my hair fell out. People think I’m a little boy. But I like my hair short. It doesn’t hurt my feelings. I know I’m a girl and I’m still pretty.” — Layla Smith

Hear more from Layla.

When I began this project in 2014, I had just met Melissa Culbreth, who retired as a chaplain in the NC Army National Guard, and has since had three recurrences of breast cancer. Melissa’s determination, and her ambition to help other cancer patients through pet therapy, prompted me to wonder if there was a way I could help cancer patients through my photography. That led to a partnership with the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program to photograph and interview a dozen cancer patients and survivors in their own environments, doing what they love and enjoying a new lease on life. Our vision was for the finished work to be displayed in the Duke Cancer Center, in hopes that it would provide comfort and inspiration for newly diagnosed cancer patients at Duke.

Jared Lazarus

I quickly realized, however, that those I had been documenting were in fact inspiring me. They have given me hope, courage, and dare I even say, a new outlook on life. When a large tumor — that mercifully turned out to be benign — was found in my daughter’s abdomen two years ago, my world was turned upside down. I have never felt more helpless as our family navigated the diagnosis and surgery process, but I trusted my daughter would rally the same warrior spirit as the patients I had met.

The brave individuals in these photographs have powerful perspectives on life. They have reminded me to seek adventure, to always view the glass as half full, to live in the present, and they made me realize my daughter had courage I had never seen before.

This project has made me even more proud to be part of Duke, and has given my work more meaning and purpose. It has been a great privilege to witness the survivors’ journeys and share their stories.

All 14 photographed cancer survivors share their stories in the video above.
Stephanie (Lipscomb) Hopper, now 28, of Greenville, South Carolina. Stephanie was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma (brain tumor) in 2011. She was the first person in the world to have a modified poliovirus injection to combat aggressive brain cancer, which eliminated her tennis ball-sized tumor. She’s photographed with her now husband, Matthew Hopper, also 28. She works as a pulmonary nurse and enjoys crafting and playing with their dog. Photographed October 29, 2015.

“I never thought that I was going to die. Just going back for my MRI scans, I had complete faith in God and my doctors. It was just showing me, ‘you’re going to change the world’.” — Stephanie Lipscomb

Hear more from Stephanie.
Jaime Sainz, now 55, of Garner, North Carolina. Sainz has been living with stage 4 colon cancer since his diagnosis in June 2015, as a result of chemotherapy treatments at Duke every three weeks with a combination of three experimental drugs. Sainz officially retired from the Army last year. His daughter Andrea is now 4. Photographed March 21, 2016.

“Being in the military for 26 years, I’m that gung ho, hard-core guy, like, ‘That’s not going to happen to me.’ Well, it just happened to me. I’m not going to sit over here and feel sorry for myself.” — Jaime Sainz

Hear more from Jaime.
Saeideh Razmkhah, now 53, of Durham, North Carolina. Saeideh is still in remission from breast cancer. She is photographed playing in the autumn leaves with her daughters, Kaitlin and Kathrin Khosravi-Far, now 16 and 15, at Valley Springs Park in Durham. Photographed November 8, 2014.

“The energy, the power of the prayers that family and friends sent me from all over the world, helped me and kept me strong…I could tolerate everything.” — Saeideh Razmkhah

Hear more from Saeideh.
Narciscus Key of Suffolk, Virginia. Narciscus passed away February 8, 2017, at 45 years old after battling stage 4 rectal cancer. He is photographed here with his wife, Serena, who gave birth to their son, Phoenix, on April 14, 2017. Serena is getting remarried in April. Her son Phoenix will be 3. Photographed March 18, 2016.

“Take it day by day. You can’t look at yesterday because you can’t change yesterday. Tomorrow hasn’t come yet. You can only focus on right now.” — Narciscus Key

Hear more from Narciscus.
Lori Elliott, now 36, of Raleigh, North Carolina. Lori was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and is in remission. Seen here with her children, James and Grace, now 11 and 8, they enjoy traveling and going to their soccer games and dance recitals. Photographed February 19, 2015.

“We live in such a world where you’re just rushed, rushed, rushed, and it’s literally slowing down and being thankful and enjoying the small moments of life.” — Lori Elliott

Hear more from Lori.
Luningning Robb, now 73, of Roxboro, North Carolina. Luningning is in remission from acute myeloid leukemia. She still enjoys singing karaoke with her friends but is more often found singing in her church choir, and is starting to bowl again. Photographed July 16, 2015.

“You have to accept your disease and fight it like you have an enemy in your body. We are our own enemy because we let cancer get us down. We get stressed and depressed.” — Luningning Robb

Hear more from Luningning.
Johnny Alston, now 74, of Durham, North Carolina. Johnny is in stable condition and continues treatments at Duke for prostate cancer that has spread to his rib, lymph nodes and spine. He retired as a theater professor at North Carolina Central University after his 42-year “love fest” in 2018 and now enjoys rebuilding old audio equipment. Photographed May 5, 2016.

“If you don’t let it get you in the beginning, then every little upswing, every little positive thing that you hear or that happens to you, makes you stronger.” — Johnny Alston

Hear more from Johnny.
Bob Norris died at 87 surrounded by family and friends at his home in New Bern on December 5, 2019. His lung cancer came back in April 2019 and spread quickly. Bob was still riding his Harley on the Thanksgiving Day before he died. He is survived by four grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Photographed January 16, 2015.

“I don’t want my great grandkids to know what cancer is — that is, unless they look in the dictionary or hear it on a history program. That’s why I’ve decided to do things to help raise funds.” — Bob Norris

Hear more from Bob.
Stephen Albright, now 23, of New York City. Cancer-free for four years, Stephen graduated from UNC in May 2019 and is now working in commercial real estate. Stephen stopped playing football due to concussions during his sophomore year and then became a student assistant coach. Photographed June 7, 2016

“It really didn’t matter if I was wearing light blue or dark blue, the doctors at Duke would still show me so much love and joke around with me every time I got there.” — Stephen Albright

Hear more from Stephen.
Eve Griffith, now 12, of Apex, North Carolina. Eve was diagnosed with Wilms tumor (kidney cancer) in 2009 and has been cancer free for ten years. She enjoys cooking with her mom, Christy, dancing, volunteering at childhood cancer fundraising events, and feeding the food insecure. Photographed September 11, 2015.

“Just because you have cancer doesn’t mean you can’t show up to Duke looking fabulous. Remember you are strong, and you are brave. I kicked cancer’s butt.” — Eve Griffith

Hear more from Eve.
Julie Cardillo, now 43, of Cary, North Carolina. In remission from ovarian and uterine cancer, Julie now works with her oncologist Dr. Angeles Secord as a patient advocate. She is also a 2D design, drawing and art appreciation instructor at Wake Forest Technical Community College. She married in June and now has two teen stepchildren. Photographed April 14, 2016.

“The hair, the eyelashes and all those things don’t mean anything when it comes to your blood cells and your health . . . focus on the shrinking cancer within you, because all those things will grow back.” — Julie Cardillo

Hear more from Julie.
Gerald Madren, now 53, of Thomasville, North Carolina. Gerald is a 23-year survivor of chronic myelgenous blast crisis leukemia and enjoys fitness and spending time with his two grandchildren — a third is on the way. Photographed September 11, 2015.

“I was sick. I went down to 110 pounds from 200 pounds within a month . . . they were feeding me through a tube. But don’t give up, don’t start stressing. I had no immune system and here I am.” — Gerald Madren

Hear more from Gerald.
Melissa Culbreth, now 45, of Carolina Beach. Despite three recurrences, she’s still cancer free and has been off chemotherapy for a year. Melissa enjoys martial arts, hiking, camping, kayaking and volunteering with her dog Lea in a special education program for elementary school students with behavioral and emotional disabilities. She is photographed at Falls Lake with Lea. Photographed May 7, 2017.

“I have a fairly strong independent streak; it was issued with the red hair. I had to come to the point where I could say, ‘I need help.’ You have to have a support system and lean into it.” — Melissa Culbreth

Hear more from Melissa.

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