For teenage girls, portraits are symbols of friendship and strength

The young women looked at the large, black-and-white photographs arranged around the room quietly at first. These were the type of glamour shots usually seen in fashion magazines, with one big difference. These pictures were of them, captured during the most challenging time of their lives, yet looking strong, confident – beautiful.

Three months earlier, these patients at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center had bonded during the ninth annual Jimmy Fund Girls Weekend. They enjoyed dinner, a performance at the Boston Opera House, manicures and pampering at Salon Pini, and new outfits from H&M. Each also had a private sitting with photographer Doug Quagliaroli. On May 3, they saw the results of those sessions for the first time during an elegant portrait reveal and dinner in the Lavine Family Dining Pavilion.

“The portraits really show all of our personalities,” said Samantha Dubois, 18. “Even the serious ones glowed with what made that girl special. I want to take mine to college, but my Dad says he’s going to put it in the living room.”

Dubois and others said that looking at the portraits brought them back to Girls Weekend, when they made friendships that have continued through group chats and clinic visits.

“I grew a lot closer to some of the girls there,” said Meghan Tompkins, 14. “When I look at my picture years from now, that’s what I’ll remember,”

The Jimmy Fund Girls Weekend is funded by the Howard G. Gordon Family Teen Activities Fund established by Dana-Farber Trustee Michael Gordon and his wife, Christina. Quagliaroli, who volunteers his photography services at the weekend each year, attended the event with his wife, son, and daughter. All help him with the portrait sessions, which have special meaning for their family too: Quagliaroli’s 15-year-old son, Luciano, is a cancer survivor treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s.

“It’s a beautiful experience, and we’re happy to do it,” says Quagliaroli. “This is a super traumatic time in the lives of these girls, and hopefully they can look back and see their strength.”

For parents, siblings, and friends, viewing the portraits also elicited strong emotions.

“You can only think of one word when you walk in and see them all – powerful,” said Errick Dubois, Samantha’s father. “You have a bunch of young ladies all around this room who are very strong. They have been through a lot, and that makes it a powerful room.”

Many Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s doctors, nurses, and other staff attended the portrait reveal, and were moved by seeing their patients and others represented so uniquely. Lisa Diller, MD, chief medical officer of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s, stood alone staring silently at each portrait.

“I was struck by the individuality and strength of each young woman in her photograph,” said Diller. “Each one seems to be saying ‘I won’t be defined by my cancer’ – and I love that!”

Girls Weekend is headed up each year by Lisa Scherber and Jen Noonan of the Jimmy Fund Clinic. As she watched the stars of the show laughing and hugging beside their portraits, Scherber smiled.

“We see them coming into the clinic every day, and we know how beautiful and strong they are,” said Scherber, director of Patient and Family Programs at Dana-Farber. “But it’s great for them to see it, too.”

Saul Wisnia
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Communications