A sudden jolt of sadness

November 8, 2008 § 4 Comments

I work at a cancer hospital, and I’ve lost family members to cancer. On a usual workday this is not something I think about a lot, except that it adds an extra dimension to the work I’m doing. But sometimes, little things and moments can suddenly make me sad.

In 2005 my girlfriend’s little sister died at age 17, after fighting acute lymphoblastic leukemia for three years. Following her into battle during those years has stored a lot of images in me that’s related to her fight. I guess it’s the same for most other relatives of cancer patients.

The most common visual trait associated with cancer patients is the loss of hair, a side-effect of some chemotherapy drugs. Some patients, mostly male, tackle this by shaving their head, but most start wearing some sort of head cover. It seems to me a lot of younger patients tend to choose a scarf or a cap. Older women often choose to wear a wig. The little sister sometimes wore a wig, but used a scarf most of the time.


It’s mostly when I walk from one place to another in the hospital, not focusing on work, that I get these jolts of sadness. It can be that I turn a corner and face a young patient with a scarf, her face round from steroid treatment, pushing an IV stand. This week something happened that wasn’t as direct an association as this.

Walking back to my office from the canteen, I saw an elderly couple sitting at the end of the long corridor. As I came closer they rose from the chairs to leave, and I could see the woman was wearing a wig. I don’t know if they were going to see the doctor or leave the hospital, but as I passed them the woman adjusted her wig just slightly, looking at her husband to be her mirror. He nodded and they left.

Just a few seconds, but to me it said everything about the horror and turmoil a cancer diagnosis sends into a normal life. The need to stay normal and the longing to lead a normal life again. And how important family members are when the lightning strikes.

I returned to my office, ate my lunch and started to edit a video of a radical prostatectomy.

Photo credits: wig, chemo.

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§ 4 Responses to A sudden jolt of sadness

  • Beautiful post, as always. Cheers.

  • Maureen says:

    Thank you for re-establishing my faith that there are doctors out there who care and notice things about the patient. I know it is unfair, but sometimes in the crazy world of medicine, it feels like you aren’t even a person, let alone a patient, just another number or face. You showed that this isn’t true, and I have to be more open to the fact that my doctors too, are human, and doing the best they can.

  • Øystein says:

    Thank you, both!

    Maureen: I’m a medical photographer, not a doctor, but I certainly hope and believe there are doctor’s out there who, like me, can take a step back from their work and see their patients as fellow human beings.

  • […] you want to read the quoted blog posts in full, go to A Sudden Jolt of Sadness and The Opposite of […]

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