The Room by Jodi Paik (Fall 2016) and my artwork The Last Stand both examine medicine through the eyes of a child— a perspective not yet laden with the what-if’s, should-have’s, and if-only’s that come with growing up.
My hometown, Memphis, is home to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. There I’ve met children from around the world battling cancer, and I’m always struck by their optimism and the unique way they understand their condition. Even after a heavy bout of chemo, they gush about the plate of fresh cupcakes down the hall or an enormous jet they saw climbing through the clouds one morning.
However, I’m most intrigued by how they come to terms with their illness—why they fear what they fear and how they respond.
Some kids want to master all the details about their condition— how their cancer looks and behaves, which drug enters which line, and where treatment is headed for the next month. They commit each step of a surgical procedure to memory. Like Todd and his stuffed monkey, they can insert a line into a doll, track their daily stats, and explain their treatments with astonishing ease and a confidence that belies their age.
Others are less open. They tend to shy away from details about their treatment and avoid any new X-rays or MRI scans. They rarely ask questions because they hope that not knowing might make their illness a little less real, a little less painful. Like the cornered hero of The Last Stand, they don’t take kindly to sharp objects and close themselves off to medical explanations. Therefore, for these children especially, it’s important to perceive the world through their eyes, and to help them make sense of it by validating their fears and encouraging the progress they make.
Kelley Yuan will begin her studies at Sidney Kimmel Medical College in 2018 as part of the Penn State/SKMC combined BS/MD program. She studies illustration and fences épée when she should be revising for exams. Her work seeks to capture the rare, light-hearted moments in a field filled with pain, fear, and tough decisions.
© 2017 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine