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The Proximity of Mortality - A Visual Artist’s Journey Through Cancer

Updated: Nov 10, 2022



…sometimes simplicity is the most powerful spiritual stimulation. - Nicholas J Petrelli, M.D.

On the surface, The Proximity of Mortality, Stephen Starkman's beautiful new book, is about dichotomies: living and dying, cancer and health, suffering and healing, hope and despair, art and science.


When I was diagnosed with cancer five years ago, I learned that each of these seemingly opposite things actually co-exist at the same time. It is not either or, for being human is not black and white. It is many beautiful shades of grey.


The Proximity of Mortality is about how the light and darkness exist together. Stephen shows us - in words and photos - that life is a precious balance of the two every day.


This book is a beauty. It is an art book not meant to be shelved away in a bookcase but displayed proudly on your table. It is a book whose weight should be held in your hands and treasured. Stephen is a professional photographer and he brings his craft to his cancer story. The Proximity of Mortality is complemented by essays by Nicholas J Petrelli, M.D., Aline Smithson and Jonathan Blaustein. Poignant quotes and poems from other cancer patients are scattered throughout the pages.


I’m fascinated by the intersection of science and the arts and Stephen illuminates this intersection well. His gorgeous photos inspire curiosity, awe and wonder, even in pictures set in the dank settings of the cancer hospital. If you believe in the patient experience, this book will show you that experience through a patient’s eyes. I hope you question why the hospital is so ugly while there is so much beauty in the world just outside its doors.



Photo by Stephen Starkman

Health professionals, assign this book to your book club. Slowly flip through its heavy pages during a break. Write about this book. Talk to the author about it. Every cancer hospital should share Stephen’s book to start bringing healing to their space.


For people who have been patients like me, you will remember your own cancer experience as you pause to reflect on the photos. This is bittersweet but also a reminder to be thankful that you are here.


Stephen is publishing his book as he nears the end of his own life. He encourages us all to look for beauty in this dark world every single day and share it. This is what he has generously done with his book. Thank you, Stephen. Xo.


The Proximity of Mortality can be purchased here.

Photo by Stephen Starkman



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