November 20, 2013
As printed in the New York Times on Oct 20, 2013
Text by Michael Winerip, Photos by Nancy Borowick
CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. — Shortly after Nancy Borowick’s boyfriend got down on one knee and popped the question, she began to worry about the wedding. If everything had been normal, Ms. Borowick and her husband-to-be, Kyle Grimm, would have waited a year, until the spring of 2014. She’s 28, he’s 27 and they would have liked the extra time to build their careers and get used to living together. Ms. Borowick works as a freelance photographer and is often up by 6 a.m., calling newspaper photo desks around the city in hopes of getting an assignment. Mr. Grimm is a junior lawyer at a corporate firm who is already married, to his job.
But before they could make plans, Ms. Borowick needed to know: how long did her parents have? Both had advanced cancers. Pancreatic cancer was eating at her father, breast cancer at her mother, and the daughter could not conceive of getting married without them. “You’re walking me down the aisle,” she kept telling them.
The most likely person to have the answers was Dr. Barry Boyd, who had been caring for Ms. Borowick’s mother, Laurel, since she was first given a diagnosis of cancer in 1997, and more recently, her father.
Dr. Boyd is on the staff at Greenwich Hospital, an assistant research professor at the Yale School of Medicine and a rarity in the medical field, a buoyant oncologist. He would not lie, but he is known for striving to convey the most hopeful version of the truth.
Which is why in April when Ms. Borowick asked for advice on scheduling the wedding, Dr. Boyd’s response startled her. “There’s no reason not to do it as soon as you can,” he said.
She picked Oct. 5.
The first time Laurel Borowick received a diagnosis of breast cancer, at the age of 42, she thought she was being very calm and controlled until she walked out of the doctor’s office, got into her car and realized she had forgotten to put on one of her socks and a shoe.
She had been worried since the day her husband Howie had come up from behind, put his arms around her, playfully touched her breasts and felt a lump in the right one.
Cancer ran in both families, or more accurately, raced through them. Mr. Borowick was a baby when his father died of brain cancer and 15 when his mother died of breast cancer; Laurel Borowick was in college when her father died from pancreatic cancer.
The Borowicks met at St. John’s University Law School in Queens, working on a theater production. She sang, he danced. He talked, she listened. A famous Howie Borowick story: “Our first date lasted seven hours. About six hours in, it was 3 a.m., and I looked at Laurel and said, ‘Now you tell me something about yourself.’ ”
She worked full time as a lawyer when they were married, then gave it up to anchor the household.
When their younger daughter fell on a soccer field, he was the parent yelling, “Suck it up, Nance.”
When one of the three children had a birthday, she was the parent who would sneak in to decorate their bedrooms while they slept.
He became a highly successful personal injury lawyer representing union workers. Alan Kaminsky, a lawyer who has battled Mr. Borowick in court on dozens of cases over the years said, “Howie is a formidable adversary; he’s a game changer.” By that he meant that if opposing lawyers saw Mr. Borowick had been hired to try a case, they suddenly became more interested in settling.
While she is quiet and discreet, he will tell strangers his deepest secrets within 10 minutes of saying hello.
But in the fall of 2009, after being well for more than a decade, she learned that her breast cancer had returned. She made him swear not to tell a soul. Their older daughter Jessica was getting married in two weeks, and Ms. Borowick didn’t want anything to distract from the wedding.
“Howie kept the secret,” she said. “I was pleased.”
It turned out to be a 5-centimeter tumor in her chest wall, where her right breast had been removed 12 years earlier. The plan was to shrink it with chemotherapy, then do surgery and radiation.
The first time Ms. Borowick had cancer, she was frightened of dying and leaving her young children behind; the second time, she says, she was angry. She’d read all the books, learned everything she could, asked a million questions and followed the rules — strict diet, regular exercise — and in the end, so what?
That September, Nancy, then a student at the International Center for Photography, asked about chronicling her mother’s cancer treatment for a project.
The mother liked the idea; it meant they’d spend more time together, and her daughter would learn about her disease.
In some of the photos she looked beautiful, like the one of her laughing, her closely cropped head thrown back in joy. But many more were painful to look at — Ms. Borowick passed out from exhaustion, trying on a wig, hugging her then-healthy husband, looking frail and lost.
Among the photos there was one that was particularly hard for people to stop looking at. Laurel Borowick was lying on a radiation table, her head turned sideways in an attractive profile, her hair dark and thick, a hoop earring dangling from her right ear. Her arm arched artfully over her head, soft light reflected on her naked chest, lines of light crisscrossed to mark the spot for the radiologist, and, where the right breast had been, there was an ugly gouge of a scar. The photo had a Christ-like quality to it.
This was the photo a Chelsea gallery blew up to 19 by 27 inches and visitors lingered by and Nancy Borowick’s teacher singled out for praise. But Nancy worried about her mother seeing it displayed publicly. “I hope I’m not hurting her,” she said. “I hope she meant it when she said it was O.K. and she wasn’t doing it just for me.”
The answer was, Laurel Borowick found it unsettling being put on display at such private moments, not to mention that she was a woman in her 50s, naked. But she also said she was able to distance herself because it didn’t feel as if she was that person in the photos — bald, shapeless, neither man nor woman.
She agreed to do it, she said, because she wanted to help her daughter and trusted her judgment. But in the midst of the project Ms. Borowick felt there could be another purpose — for people with cancer to see an honest, gritty portrayal and realize they weren’t the only ones. “I understood there was a greater good, maybe not on a grand scale, but maybe for a few people.”
“It makes me feel like I’m not just another person dying of cancer,” she said.
On a hot day in late August, Mr. Borowick drove his wife to a treatment. As he got out of the car, he felt dizzy and put a hand on the hood to steady himself. “Are you O.K.?” his wife asked.
People always asked now.
The two were in chemotherapy, sometimes on alternating weeks, sometimes side by side. Dr. Boyd said that in nearly 30 years, he’s treated two other couples together.
The previous December Mr. Borowick started getting terrible stomach pain, and when he went for an examination and the doctor pressed his back, it felt as if he’d been hit by lightning. Tests verified it was pancreatic cancer and had spread to his liver.
“My family doctor came in and was white as a sheet,” Mr. Borowick recalled. “I said, ‘Should I call my estate lawyer?’ and he said, ‘Call your estate lawyer.’ ”
He’d lost 30 pounds and some days he stayed in bed until the afternoon, then came downstairs and sat in a recliner until evening. The chemotherapy was so toxic, it had to be dripped into him over 48 hours from an infuser he wore on his hip.
His wife’s news was bad too. In September 2011, after she had had a year and a half of good health, her cancer had come back a third time, and was much more virulent, metastasizing throughout her body. By January 2013 it had reached her brain.
On this summer day, Nancy had come along to speak with Dr. Boyd about how her parents were doing.
He told her that the most recent chemotherapy regimen had been effective and their cancers were in remission at the moment, except for the lesions in her mother’s brain, which didn’t appear to be getting worse.
“Both are in remission?”
“Both are in remission.”
“And my mother’s brain?”
The disease is currently stable and nonprogressive, Dr. Boyd said.
“Has my Dad’s case been surprising?” Nancy asked. “It sounds like his response has been different than many patients’.”
“What do you want to know?,” her mother asked gently. “How many days? How many months? How many years?”
“I want to know how to feel,” Nancy said. “People ask how are your parents? I don’t know what to tell them.”
“You can tell them your mother’s been going through this damn thing for 14 years,” Mr. Borowick said.
“Sixteen,” Laurel said.
September was busy, with the Jewish holidays, the bridal shower, wedding preparations. What free time she had, Laurel Borowick spent reading and listening to books on tape. “I feel an urgency,” she said one afternoon sitting at her kitchen table. She kept a “To Read” list along with a folder full of titles she hoped to get to before too long. “With this spreading to my brain,” she said, “I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to see or understand.”
Both she and her husband had decided to go off chemotherapy in the weeks before the wedding so they’d have more energy. Dr. Boyd had warned it could be risky and said it made him nervous. “But he didn’t say if you stop you’ll drop dead,” Ms. Borowick said. “You’ve met Dr. Boyd; he makes the best of things.”
This third time around she was focused on what she referred to as cancer’s gritty side. She wondered what it would feel like to be on her death bed and whether Dr. Boyd could protect her from the pain, as he had said.
She’d also become good at willing herself to feel the pleasures of the day, and not worrying beyond. Living in the moment had become a mantra.
At that particular moment, a repairman walked into the kitchen. They’d been having trouble with the central air-conditioning system.
“I’m going to sit down, I have bad news,” said the man, taking a seat at the table. He said the system needed to be completely replaced.
“It’s O.K.,” Ms. Borowick said. “Nobody died, it’s just an air-conditioner.” “I know, but I hate giving bad news.” “There are worse things,” Ms. Borowick said.
Mr. Borowick had started walking around the neighborhood to build his stamina. The wedding was to be at Liberty View Farm near New Paltz, N.Y., and it would be a long march to the altar. Some days his practice walks went well; others, he had to stop and lie flat on the ground to gather his strength. He would never have said it to his daughter, but he wasn’t looking forward to the wedding. He felt depressed. He didn’t feel like Howie Borowick anymore, and people were expecting the Howie Borowick who was the first one in the pool, the first on the dance floor. He worried if he wasn’t enough like himself, people would worry about him and that would take attention away from Nancy on her day.
On the Thursday before the wedding, he and Laurel and Nancy and Kyle were in the basement, packing things into the cars to take upstate. Everyone was bustling about except Mr. Borowick, who didn’t look well. He leaned against a table and more than once said, “I’ll let Kyle carry this.”
At one point he lifted a metal wig stand, carried it across the room, then had to sit to catch his breath.
He wasn’t sleeping at night, and then was drowsy all day. Usually it was the chemo that did this to him, but he hadn’t taken any for three weeks and now he was wondering, was it the cancer? “I’m wiped, I don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “I walked three and a half miles yesterday and needed just two rests.”
“I’ve got to be on my game,” he said later. “All day I’m praying I can put a smile on my face, get my toast ready. I want it to be perfect; for me that’s a lot of pressure.”
From the other side of the basement, Nancy kept an eye on him and every few minutes called out, “Are you O.K., Dad?”
“I’m good, Nance,” he’d answer. “I’m great.”
The plan was for the wedding party to march from behind the barn across a wide lawn and then down the grassy aisle to the spot by the silver maple where Nancy and Kyle would be married.
It was a perfect day. The late afternoon light was golden, the temperature balmy; fall leaves floated down on them from above.
First came the eight bridesmaids and their eight groomsmen and then the bride, escorted by her parents. She was radiant, of course, they always are, but the parents were magnificent. Laurel was shapely in a new navy gown, and with a wig and makeup looked 20 years younger than the frail woman from the photo essay. As for Mr. Borowick, his step had a bounce, he looked trim in his black suit, he was smiling and acknowledging friends and family. Dr. Leonard Schleifer, a neighbor, took one look and said: “Oh, my God, it’s the old Howie. Fabulous. Adrenaline and emotion clearly lifted him.”
Doubling up on the Ritalin and three gin and tonics didn’t hurt, either.
The father danced with his daughter, the mother with her son-in-law, the father with the mother and everyone danced to 200 reprises of “Hava Nagila,” let us rejoice. As is the custom at Jewish weddings, the bride and groom and then the parents sat in chairs and were lifted up and down. Ms. Borowick looked terrified, but every time Mr. Borowick rose above the crowd, he thrust his arms upward like a pitcher who had just completed a perfect game. After a toast in which, among other things, he quoted Aristotle and said he wouldn’t trade his new son-in-law for the world, he went table to table thanking everyone for coming.
“Tonight you saw a little taste of the old Howie,” Laurel said later. “He grabbed the attention, the litigator who loved being in the spotlight.”
The way she moved on the dance floor, you could see why he’d fallen for her. And so the story ends on a happy note of sorts. Everyone achieved what they’d set out to. Nancy was walked down the aisle by her parents.
She and Mr. Grimm were married on a perfect day under a hundred-year-old tree.
Mr. Borowick found the strength to summon up the old Howie.
Laurel Borowick successfully willed herself to live in the moment.
Two hundred and twenty guests went home saying, “Wasn’t she a beautiful bride?” and, “Didn’t Laurel and Howie look good?”
And the Borowicks were given one of the best gifts parents could wish for, to see their child happy.
February 19, 2013
And some more favorites… from day 2 at WKC
Such a Gentleman. His name is Loti, and hes only 19 months.
A whole lotta pointing
His name is Wally but they call him “The Big Cheese”
Philo, a Samoyed from Long Island.
A sleepy Weimaraner named Payton, after a long morning in the ring
A slobbery kiss
Canine in the crowd
Cathy and her 2-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer Link
Baba, 2 1/3 year old Dogue de Bordeaux
A suit made of Weimaraner.
and the winner is… BANANA JOE!
February 18, 2013
I had the exciting pleasure of being assigned to photograph the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show this year for Newsday. Here are some favorites from day 1.
A stolen kiss in the elevator at Pier 92 in Manhattan.
Chino, 1 1/2 year old Lhasa Apso from Iowa, gets combed.
Old English Sheepdog Delaney, 3, hails from New Jersey and sports his Swedish booties.
Marie Stahmer stands with Mojo, her three-year-old Boston Terrier.
Lily McGowan, 8, shares a moment with two-year-old Keeshond named Promise.
Foxy Brown and Cecil B. DeMille, both 2 1/2 year old Basset hounds, wear their snoods to protect their ears before competing in the ring.
Dora, a 1 1/2 year old Dachshund, waits anxiously on her owners toes for her turn in the ring.
Natalie, a 6-year-old Shetland Sheepdog from Maryland.
Credo, a 6 1/2 year old Blood Hound, hugs his co-owners Michael and Kimberly Hansen.
Moon, a 3 year old Whippet from Wisconsin, gets powdered.
Bingo, a 2 1/2 year old Bichon Frise from Texas, gets a last minute eye liner touchup.
Bichon Frise Honor, 3, won Best of Breed during day one of the Westminster Dog Show.
Dalmatians in the ring.
Chino, a 4 1/2 year old Scottish Deer Hound.
After a morning start at 4:30am, Norwegian Buhund Pink, 2, takes a quick, well deserved nap.
Bean is a 3-year-old Bearded Collie with fabulous hair. The day was humid so his fabulous hair needed to be ironed!
The Afghan Hounds get groomed before entering the ring.
Miley Rae, a 3-year-old Smooth Collie, waits for her owner by the ladies room.
Sugar, a 3-year-old Chinese Crested, travels in style.
Leaving the Piers for Madison Square Garden
The best of breeds from day one arrive at Madison Square Garden