A Mosaic: The Many Faces of Cancer
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.
“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
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.
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.
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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