According to Merriam Webster, “resilience” is the “ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” With the help of his wife, Nicole, photographer Ramzi Mansour created a book of the same name, exploring the many ways in which a cancer diagnosis can both devastate and inspire, take strength away but restore it anew.
“My father had cancer when I was young, and I will never forget the toll it took on my family,” explains Mansour. “It was one of the most terrible times in my life as a young boy, and one that made me grow up very quickly.” The book, which features the stories of 42 women, gives firsthand accounts of their unique cancer journeys, through diagnosis and treatment, as well as what inspired them to keep going despite it all. Each portrait is in Mansour’s signature black-and-white style and accompanied with interviews conducted by his wife, Nicole.
Mansour wasn’t always a photographer. Before he was behind the lens, he was a businessman. After the birth of his second child and his family’s international move, he decided to play around with one of his passions: photography. He bought his first camera and started taking pictures of his family and friends, and one of those shots ended up at a modeling agency. The agency asked if Mansour would be willing to take more pictures, and the rest is history. The more time Mansour spent with his camera, the more he learned about himself. “I started looking at pictures and people in a different light,” he says. “For me, taking someone’s photograph signifies a moment in time in that person’s life that will be remembered forever. This inspired me to create pictures that tell stories of how I view the subjects using my camera.”
After shooting the cover image for a magazine publication centered around South Africa’s Cancer Awareness Month, Mansour quickly realized he could combine his black-and-white portraiture with his desire to tell a meaningful story. “That was how the concept of our book, ‘Resilience,’ was born,” Mansour says. “We wanted to present a raw and authentic insight into the experiences of South African women as they journeyed with cancer.”
Nicole was the one to convince Mansour to embark on the “Resilience” journey, using her background in journalism to conduct interviews with all 42 women featured in the book. “It was [Nicole’s] ability to truly connect with each person and to create a safe space that allowed them to be vulnerable and authentic,” Mansour says.
With the interviews and photoshoots taking place at the height of COVID-19, both Mansour and his wife had to take extra precautions and handle each profile separately. They needed to be cognizant of each woman’s physical capabilities and emotional well-being. Over 2,000 hours were spent on the project, and 2,500 free copies of “Resilience” were sent to cancer wards and hospitals worldwide, with over 300,000 downloads of the e-book. Mansour’s mission of using his talent to touch others meaningfully is well on its way to completion.
Each story in “Resilience” shows a unique viewpoint on cancer and the many ways it can impact an individual’s life — making them want to run, cry, hide, fight and live each day as if it were their last. Mansour wanted the book to show that despite each cancer journey being different and highly personal, there are shared experiences and connections to be made with other people walking a similar path. “I hope that ‘Resilience’ can offer anyone on their path with cancer, or any other hardship in life, to take solace in reading that they are not alone,” says Mansour, “and to read of everyday women who journeyed with cancer and how they approached it. The book is filled with hope.”
In hopes of reaching a wider audience, Mansour also made the book available as a free online download. Knowing the fear he went through when his father was facing cancer, he hoped that as many people as possible, whether cancer warrior, thriver, supporter, or caregiver, could use this book as a way to know they are not alone. “If this book can somehow bring a glimmer of hope [or] shine a light in a dark tunnel, or resonate with and lift the morale of just one person, then I know that what we set out to do has been realized,” says Mansour.
The title of the book came from a common thread Mansour says he and his wife noticed through each woman’s cancer story: “The resilience of the human spirit to face and walk through seemingly insurmountable odds,” says Mansour. He explains that we all will face our own hardships, but the true connection comes from hearing how others faced their battles and walked their journeys.
As for Mansour’s favorite part of creating “Resilience,” his highs intertwine with his lows. From meeting the women and photographing them, to distributing copies around the world and to the public, Mansour loved every minute of the process. However, two of the interviewees in the book passed away upon nearing the completion of the project. “Their losses were truly felt by the whole team,” says Mansour. “And, feeling much sadness, we resolved to honor these women as best as we could by continuing to share ‘Resilience’ with the world.”
The whole experience of “Resilience” has made Mansour look for more projects with meaning attached to them. He and his wife are already bouncing ideas for a new book they can create together. The most important question that Mansour asks himself is: What are you doing with the platform you are given? “How will I use my platform to empower and inspire others?” he says. “How will I support my fellow human being? To me, this is what humanity is about — connecting us all and supporting each other so that we may face our journeys with a shared sense of togetherness and a reminder of who we really are.”
But above all, Mansour and his wife want to shed light on the women who made “Resilience” possible, and the ones who found beauty and strength amidst the toughest journey of their lives. “These 42 women are the real heroines of this project,” says Mansour. “We have simply told their stories and brought their beauty to the world. They are the ones who have faced their journeys, shared their stories and walked each step of their realities.”