“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.”