A Daughter Chronicles Her Parents' Final Months With Cancer : Shots - Health News Photographer Nancy Borowick captured her parents' deep love and joy in life, even as they endured treatment in their 50s for the cancers they knew would soon kill them.
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Our Last Year Together: What My Camera Captured As My Parents Died Of Cancer

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Our Last Year Together: What My Camera Captured As My Parents Died Of Cancer

Our Last Year Together: What My Camera Captured As My Parents Died Of Cancer

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Picture this - two young people madly in love, getting married. There's dancing, sideburns, big hair, ruffled shirts, poofy sleeves, white yarmulkes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MORE THAN A WOMAN")

BEE GEES: (Singing) Girl, I've known you very well...

SHAPIRO: And at the center of this happy swirl - the bride and groom, Laurel and Howard.

NANCY BOROWICK: It was the 1970s. They were in their 20s. They were law students. My father loved John Travolta and "Saturday Night Fever." And I think he saw something in himself that reflected that. You know, like, he - his - you know, his most well-known dance move was that.

SHAPIRO: That - that move that was disco, the arm raised, finger pointing at the sky move. Howard and Laurel's middle child, Nancy Borowick, loves the over-the-topness of those wedding photos.

N. BOROWICK: You know, my parents had a cheesy kind of love. My father was over the moon for my mother and very vocal about it. Anyone who knew him knew how much he loved my mother.

SHAPIRO: That love lasted for more than three decades until both Laurel and Howard died in their 50s from cancer. Nancy Borowick did not want to let the rich life that her parents shared fade away, so she documented it and created a book called "Family Imprint: A Daughter's Portrait Of Love And Loss."

N. BOROWICK: I was 28, and my parents were dying. And nothing about this just made any sense. And I was scared. And so I did what I knew. I - you know, my camera was my sort of crutch that I leaned on. I'm a photographer. And the photographs that I took in the book are these black and white images that follow the story of my parents and my family while my parents were in treatment for parallel cancers. My mother had breast cancer, and my father had pancreatic.

SHAPIRO: Nancy Borowick says her family was always cracking each other up, wearing crazy costumes and singing their favorite songs, everything from Billy Joel to Hootie and the Blowfish. She creates the full picture of her family's life together with snapshots, to-do lists, needlepoint and birthday cards interspersed with the black and white photos Nancy Borowick took of her ailing parents.

N. BOROWICK: One of the layouts in the book is this series of six images. And actually, when I look at them in this layout it kind of reminds me of, like, an old film reel. My father is behind my mom. And I don't know what it - what maybe started this, but my father just started dancing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLD MY HAND")

HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH: (Singing) With a little love and some tenderness...

N. BOROWICK: I think he really wanted to make my mom smile. I think this was a challenge in this time because they were both so tired from treatment. And in that moment I forget that they're sick. But my mother also has that - you know, she has that kind of smile where you - like, you're smiling so much that, like, you might pee your pants (laughter). Like, that kind of laughter, which, you know, I think I was sitting there photographing also laughing because what a moment of joy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLD MY HAND")

HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH: (Singing) I said get up and let me see you smile.

N. BOROWICK: I remember speaking to a student once who said to me, you know, why do you want to remember these moments? Your parents were dying. And I think, well, yeah, they were dying, but they were living, you know? And it was so clear that they were living in the face of this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HOWARD BOROWICK: And nobody promised me longevity. Nobody promised me success.

SHAPIRO: Nancy also interviewed her parents.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

H. BOROWICK: Nobody promised me love. Nobody promised me healthy kids. Nobody promised me good friends. Nobody promised me a great career. And yet I've had all those. So I'm way ahead in the balloting and in accounting. So I have no regrets.

N. BOROWICK: God, I - like, you know, I still have that instinct at times to pick up my phone and try to call them. Like, I mean, now I have other means. You know, my father told us in his eulogy - he said, you know, look for me in the sunset and you can talk to me there. And so I talk to my dad every night. And my mother actually - she said, well, Dad stole the sunset, so why don't you - if you want to talk to me, you know, talk to me in the stars.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UP ON THE ROOF")

JAMES TAYLOR: (Singing) And at night the stars, they put on a show for free.

N. BOROWICK: Oh, it's - wow, it just - what a journey it has been. And I think in many ways this book is - has allowed me to grow and go - you know, and move forward. I think that that's what they would want.

SHAPIRO: Nancy Borowick's new book is "The Family Imprint: A Daughter's Portrait Of Love And Loss."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UP ON THE ROOF")

TAYLOR: (Singing) Well, I found a paradise that's just about trouble proof, I know now. And if this old world starts getting you down, well, there's room enough for two.

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