A Mosaic: The Many Faces of Cancer

Editor’s note, June 2019: “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 5, the Cancer Center celebrates Cancer Survivorship Day.

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, 5, of Hope Mills, North Carolina. Layla is currently in remission from acute lymphoblastic leukemia and enjoys singing, dancing, and playing with her puppy and toys in her free time. 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, 24, of Greenville, South Carolina. Stephanie was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma (brain tumor) in 2011. After receiving experimental poliovirus therapy, she’s in remission and works as a pediatric oncology nurse. She’s photographed with boyfriend, Matthew Hopper. 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, 50, of Clayton, North Carolina. Jaime is an Army First Sgt. at Fort Bragg and has colon cancer that has spread to his liver, abdomen, and lymph nodes. He is photographed at home playing with his baby daughter, Andrea. 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, 48, of Durham, North Carolina. Saeideh is currently in remission from breast cancer. She is photographed playing in the autumn leaves with her daughters, Kaitlin and Kathrin Khosravi-Far, 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. Narcisus 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. 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, 31, of Raleigh, North Carolina. Lori was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and is now cancer free. Seen here with her children, James and Grace having “tea time.” 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, 68, of Durham, North Carolina. Luningning is in remission from acute myeloid leukemia. She enjoys playing the ukulele, singing karaoke with friends and cooking authentic filipino dishes. 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, 70, of Durham, North Carolina. Johnny is in remission from prostate cancer that spread to his rib, lymph nodes and spine. He’s worked as a theater professor at North Carolina Central University for 14 years. 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, 82, of New Bern, North Carolina. Bob was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2003. After he recovered, his wife and adult son both died from lung cancer. Still cancer free, Bob skydives to raise funds for cancer research. 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, 19, of Raleigh, North Carolina. Stephen is in remission from testicular cancer. He is a sophomore business major at UNC and a safety on the football team. He loves dogs, sports, and reading. 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, 7, of Apex, North Carolina. Eve was diagnosed with Wilms tumor (kidney cancer) in 2009. She’s been cancer free for five years. She enjoys cooking with her mom, Christy, and dancing. She even wears a tutu to appointments. 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, 40, of Raleigh, North Carolina. Julie has been free of ovarian and uterine cancer for two years. An artist and visual arts teacher, she is photographed at home, painting beside her dog Luna. 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, 50, of Thomasville, North Carolina. Gerald is a 19-year survivor of chronic myelgenous blast crisis leukemia. A press operator by profession, he’s also a fitness enthusiast. He is photographed playing with grandson Ayden Dockery, during a family reunion. 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, 42, of Wilmington, North Carolina. Melissa was diagnosed in 2009 with breast cancer. Despite three recurrences, she’s currently cancer free. A retired chaplain in the N.C. Army National Guard, she is photographed at Falls Lake with her dog, 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.