MFA Photography Exhibit Pays Tribute to Cancer Survivors

The Pan-Mass Challenge's Living Proof Portrait Project is on view now through May 25.

brian lutes tk. photo by mike casey provided to

Brian Lutes. Photo by michael casey

Brian Lutes stood before photographer Michael Casey with tears in his eyes. He had just completed the first leg of the 2014 Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), an annual two-day bike-a-thon that raises money for cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Pouring rain had made the day’s 100-mile ride especially challenging, and Lutes—a cancer survivor and long-time participant in the event—was overcome with emotion.

“I just broke down and was bawling,” says Lutes, a 48-year-old Boston resident. “By the time I got in front of the camera, I was kind of a mess.”

Lutes is one of 43 PMC riders who posed for the organization’s PMC Living Proof Portrait Project, an installation of photographs on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston now through May 25. Shot by Wellesley-based photographer Michael Casey, the photographs in the project capture the riders—all of whom are cancer survivors—in their cycling gear just after finishing day one of the 2014 event.

Billy Starr, who founded the PMC in 1980, says the PMC Living Proof Portrait Project is meant to spotlight the riders and their personal stories. “What could be a better celebration of health than to ride 100 miles in the rain? That’s its own blessing,” Starr says.”[Casey] captures so many different emotions [in the photographs], but they’re thrilled to be alive. It’s reduced to all of that.”

As a 13-year cancer survivor, that’s a feeling that Lutes relates to. In 2002, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that typically occurs in the long bones of the arms and legs, according to the Mayo Clinic. Lutes’s cancer manifested in the tibia of his right leg, and he underwent months of chemotherapy before ultimately enduring an amputation of the diseased area below his knee.

For Lutes, a life-long athlete and sports enthusiast, the amputation of his leg was a tough pill to swallow. But just days after his surgery in 2003, he made the decision to compete in that year’s PMC–an event he’d only attended in the past as a spectator.

“When I got through [that first ride], I knew that I might not be the athlete that I was before surgery, but I’m still an athlete and that’s hugely important,” Lutes says. “Every year, that remains a component of what I get from the event.”

He adds that his passion for the event, which he has now participated in 12 times, stems from his belief that the research funded by the PMC and other events like it contributed to his positive outcome. Now that he is cancer-free, Lutes says that he appreciates the “opportunity to give back” and support others.

“The support that I get every year as a [PMC] Living Proof rider is remarkable,” he says. “I treasure what [the PMC] has done for me.”