Just about everyone is connected to someone who’s been affected by breast cancer. Here’s a chance to learn some of their stories.
For the ninth year, photographer Susan S. Buzzi’s work is taking over Broward Main Library’s sixth floor for ‘Resilient Women,’ a photo documentary showcasing breast cancer survivors through photography and sharing their personal stories. The gallery will run through the end of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“They are all so different, age-wise, ethnicity, yet they are obviously sharing that disease,” Buzzi told SFGN. “And they all have conquered it and have traveled their journal in their own way. And that’s why we like to have the stories by the photographs.”
Buzzi’s oldest subject is 99 years old. The youngest was 28 when she was diagnosed — and recently gave birth, which Buzzi describes as a “miracle baby.”
“It’s amazing that every single survivor shares (the determination to just get through it),” Buzzi said. “It’s like a strange camaraderie. It’s like a sisterhood that I’m not a part of but I’m like an honorary member.”
Buzzi started the project by reaching out to people and medical centers nine years ago. In just seven months, she photographed 50 people for her photo documentary.
“Every single person, where they are photographed is their choice,” she said. “Whether they want to be by their partner, their spouse, their animal … with their doctors, in their studio.”
One survivor, Lily Mazurek, approached Buzzi on her own to become a part of her photo documentary.
“She’s a great photographer, great easy to pose for,” she said, standing in front of her own portrait within the gallery. “I think the picture is pretty natural.”
Mazurek chose to pose in a garden behind where she used to work. “I like gardens. With a name like Lily you can’t help it.”
Mazurek was diagnosed 20 years ago in 1996 over the phone with her doctor. “For me, emotionally, it just threw me through a loop, it hit me so hard.”
The gallery began nine years ago when Buzzi and the project manager of the Broward Main library, Barbara Miller, came together to write for a grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation. They received the grant, using the funds to run the gallery for the next three consecutive years and partial funding for the fourth.
She then branched out to different programming and received new sponsorships. Ever since the end of the fourth year, Buzzi funds nearly the entire gallery by herself.
This year, Art Frenzie — a gallery that specializes in framing — sponsored by giving $200 of frames and mats towards the photo documentary. Art Frenzie is co-owned by Debbie Burke and Bernadette Zizzo, the latter a breast cancer survivor on display within the photo documentary.
“When I see Sue, I get happy, so I know it’s going to be fun and I know what it’s about. It’s about fighting,” Zizzo said.
Zizzo’s photo depicts her leaning against a tree, laughing. “We both chose the tree. I was drawn to that tree. It’s a very strong tree. It’s very grounded. Larger than life.”
Being in and out of the hospital and in recovery — including six surgeries within eight weeks to fight off an infection — she felt inspired to see herself in that photograph for the first time.
“I don’t see myself like that. People look at me and say, ‘Wow you look so good,’ and I don’t feel that way because I’m so tired … You don’t think you’re looking well, because you always have that tired feeling. Down, sleeping a lot, drained. Wow, I do look healthy there. Happy, healthy.”
In addition to Art Frenzie, Broward P.E.T. Imaging Center approached her to sponsor this year’s gallery. One of the administrators went through breast cancer and is also on display.
The photo documentary will conclude in 2017, marking the tenth anniversary since the opening. The final showing will coincide with the second part of Buzzi’s book, “I am a Strong Woman,” a collection of photos and narratives of breast cancer survivors.
“All of these women have struggled, but they all have their own journey, story to tell,” Buzzi said. “That’s why they’re up there.”