When it's my sweet 16

Documentary photo project.

Commissioned by: Magnum Foundation / Atlantic Philanthropies

Maybe it’s just God’s way of saying you’re on your way out, Jocelynn said, looking out at the drying pond. The river flowing to it was a bare crevice.

The family was sitting on a carved-out log. Jocelynn was fiddling with a twig, tearing at its bark. Her hair worked its way out of the back of her skull in patches, the skin in between exposed and flaking. She sucked on a water bottle.

I hate that, Allie, her younger sister said, sipping on a soda.


Those thoughts. Every time I just get them outta my head, someone will say something and they’ll come right back, she said. About the end of the world.

Oh, honey, don’t you worry about any of that, Amanda, the mother said. Someday the world is going to end, yes, but it’s not going to happen in your lifetime and there’s nothing you can do about it anyway.

I can’t believe that there’s not more people here, Amanda said. There was only one other family picnicking across the pond. It’s kinda weird. This was one of her favorite words. She drew out the 'e' like a slingshot.

But everything’s kinda weird now, she continued. When you get a call from the doctor saying ‘we’ve found a mass in your daughter’s brain,’ everything gets kinda weird.

Jocelynn had just celebrated her ‘sweet sixteen’ in the hospital. She was told that it was unlikely that she’d ever have children. The cancer had done things to her body that had left her infertile. In the hospital, they’d deprived her of water in order to measure her bodily functions. In a time when her body was being sucked dry, the ability to quench her thirst was crucial. She scrounged for every drop she could and took to sneaking sips while washing her face.

It was now the end of June and Jocelynn had been cleared of the cancer. Her hair was starting to grow back and she was becoming more confident in her skin. Her grandmother had just given her the fur coat that had been passed down in the family for generations. She pulled it on as if it were her own hide. She looked cozy in it, safe.