Philly photographer fights cancer inside and out

Photographer and PGN contributor Tara Lessard has spent much of her career documenting Philly’s LGBTQ-plus community, but these days she’s turning the lens on her personal struggles with cancer, which she has been battling since 2015.

Lessard wants to shine a light on the importance of a cancer treatment team that is dedicated to treating the whole person — not just the disease. She lauds the efforts of trichologist Danielle Johnson and oncology massage therapist Orlando Moreno at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America salon and spa in Philadelphia. They have helped her understand the importance of skin and hair health for a cancer patient’s physical and mental well-being.

“At this point in my treatment, I’m re-diagnosed with pelvic cancer and lymph,” Lessard said. “I was on active chemo just until about 2 1/2 months ago, which thinned out my hair. I had lost my hair completely before. Now it’s a challenge for sure.”

Lessard explained how wigs have helped her while undergoing treatment. “It’s a very stark difference. Walking into a room with a bald head and people knowing you are in treatment is a lot different than being able to blend in. It’s something I’m able to enjoy when I feel well enough.”

Danielle Johnson said that dermatological issues aren’t just a matter of aesthetics.

“When individuals lose their hair, the scalp is just as important as the hair,” she said. “You want to keep that skin healthy. A lot of times, depending on treatment, people might get inflammations in their scalp or they may have an allergic reaction to certain products. … We can tell you what to use and what not to use. We know what types of products and fabrics and fibers are coming in for the head wraps and wigs as well.”

Chemo also affects a patient’s nails, Lessard noted. “My toenails have fallen out and my fingernails too. I’m not allowed to get any kind of local nail care. So when I’m able to go to the salon and get a pedicure, they help me with things that are related to nail beds.”

Another aspect of her treatment regimen that Lessard finds helpful is weekly massage therapy provided by Orlando Moreno.

“Massage is definitely becoming more common,” Moreno said. “One of the main ways we help here is to … reduce stress hormones.”

“A combination of pressure techniques” helps patients “find a pause in the cycle of pain, stress and anxiety,” Moreno explained. “Just that pause helps the body’s autonomic nervous system reset so they have a little bit more energy and they have a more grounded feeling so that they can move forward through the processes of treatment and all the other things that are attached to it.”


For more information about Tara Lessard, visit