The photos are intimate, haunting, the kind of images that leave an imprint long after you’ve walked away.
That’s Lisa Boccard’s intent. She wants you to stare, to ask why and how.
The Cure Package, an exhibit of 15 studio portraits at the ACND Gallery of Art at Archbishop Curley Notre Dame Prep, is a story of survival, a tale of change — and a narrative that has many chapters left yet. Its opening coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Shot more than 20 years ago by Miami photographer Lynn Parks, the photographs feature a young Boccard — bald, scarred, with medicine bottles and next to a wig-wearing mannequin. The images are stark, in unforgiving black and white, with the last one in color, symbolizing triumph.
“This was a personal journey for me,” says Boccard, now 51 and living in Coral Springs. “I wanted to find a way for my friends and family to see me as something other than a patient.”
The idea to be photographed was an act of courage. Back then breast cancer patients hid their scars and spoke little of their surgeries. “She was truly a pioneer in wanting other women to know,” recalls Parks, who has photographed several breast cancer patients since Boccard. “It’s more common now, with social media and everything, but it was very unusual back then. Women just didn’t do that.”
The photographs proved to be a launch pad for Boccard, who became active in breast cancer advocacy even as she struggled through treatment. In fact, two years into a fight for her life, Boccard spent months collecting signatures for a 1993 petition to then-President Bill Clinton, urging him to make breast cancer a national priority. As an active member of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, and then a co-founder of the Florida Breast Cancer Coalition, she knocked on doors and approached restaurant diners for their John Hancocks. She spoke to whatever group would have her. In 1994, she posed on the cover of Copy, a national magazine for cancer patients.
In 2003, one of Lisa’s older brothers, Vince Boccard, the current Coral Springs mayor, and his wife, Terry, founded the Lisa Boccard/Coral Springs Breast Cancer Foundation, with Lisa devoting hours of volunteer work. They eventually approached Broward Health Coral Springs to become their healthcare partner in an ambitious goal to offer free mammograms to women unable to afford them. Eventually that mission was expanded to also provide breast care treatment to financially needy women. So far the fund has provided more than 1,000 mammograms in Broward and identified 54 women with breast cancer. It has also funded follow-up treatment.
Advocacy has become Lisa’s way of healing. Five years ago, she moved from her longtime home in Miami to Coral Springs to devote more time to what is now the Lisa Boccard Breast Cancer Fund.
“I didn’t grow up like other people to be a judge or a lawyer,” Boccard says. “I grew up to become an advocate.”
The photo exhibit, which premiered almost two decades ago at the Towers of Quayside, a residential community in Northeast Miami-Dade, fits into Boccard’s mission to help other women in their fight against breast cancer. The marketing and gallery curator at Archbishop Curley Notre Dame Prep chose the collection to kick off the school’s artist alumni series — Boccard graduated from Notre Dame in 1980 — because she was fascinated by Boccard’s story.
“There’s a clear message in the photographs,” ACND’s Lisa Morales says, “and it’s not just about survival. It’s also about how survivors can still proclaim their femininity. They don’t have to hide it.”
Boccard was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer at 29, after nine months of having her symptoms dismissed by doctors.
“I was told I was too young to have breast cancer,” she recalls. “I had no family history, no connection whatsoever to breast cancer.”
Months of treatment — mastectomy, chemotherapy, a stem cell replacement clinical trial and radiation — left her exhausted and hairless, but not without hope. Two moments, however, were particularly challenging: when she realized that treatment would leave her unable to have children and when her hair started falling out in clumps.
“I was in the shower in Key West when I saw all this hair in my hand for the first time,” she says. “I knew what it was, that it was going to happen, but I couldn’t stop crying. It hit me then. I realized I was really, really sick.”
That’s when she came up with idea for the photographs. She had worked as a yearbook photographer in high school and felt the medium was a perfect way to illustrate her story. She researched photographers and settled on Parks because of her artistic portraiture. The first set of pictures were taken in 1991, with the last batch shot in late 1993 and early 1994.
For Parks, the studio sessions became more than a job. Her own grandmother had battled breast cancer and seeing Boccard brought those painful memories back. “It was heartbreaking for me to see somebody so young with the disease,” Parks says. “It was very sad, but at the same time I was so proud of her, of her determination. She was amazing to shoot. She knew exactly what she wanted to do.”
After 10 years, Boccard was declared cancer free. For a while, she “put cancer on the shelf. I needed a break.” But in September 2003, 11 years and one day after the initial diagnosis, doctors found more cancer while doing reconstructive surgery. She ended up having a partial hysterectomy because the cancer had spread to her ovaries and fallopian tubes. She was given five years to live.
The news was heartbreaking at first. “I asked myself, When will it be enough? When will it stop? I had to put down my boxing gloves and think about it.”
Soon enough she donned those gloves again and was put on hormone therapy for five years and a pill-form of chemo for three. Then in November 2010, another scare: a PET scan revealed a mass on her intestines. She began chemotherapy again, and was put back on hormone therapy in January.
The struggle, she says, is hard and debilitating. Sometimes she wavers, but work with the fund keeps her motivated.
“I didn’t think I’d be dealing with this in my 50s, but hey, I’m still here,” she says. “I have a lot of living to do, a lot of work with the fund. Hearing the stories of other women gives me purpose. That’s my medicine.”