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The Arts and Medicine
March 7, 2017

“That Landscape Is Where I’d Like to Be … ”: Offering Patients With Cancer a Choice of Artwork

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Humanities, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania
  • 2Department of Humanities, Penn State College of Medicine, and Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Hershey, Pennsylvania
  • 3Departments of Humanities and Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania
JAMA. 2017;317(9):890-892. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.1233

From her hospital bed in the Cancer Institute, the patient turned her head to observe the painting displayed on the wall beyond her outstretched feet. Though the chemotherapy running through her veins kept her in a near-constant state of nausea, she found it calming to turn onto her side and settle her gaze on a watercolor image of sea turtles swimming in the ocean.

“There’s just something about turtles—they relax me,” the woman told members of her health care team when they noticed her staring at the painting. She was later able to share that the creatures served as a steady reminder that if she could just get through her fourth treatment, perhaps she too could live to be 80, even 100 years old. The watercolor image stood in stark contrast to the object hanging next to it on the hospital room wall—a whiteboard filled with semilegible scribbles from her nurse about the day’s treatment plan.