The art of Jörn Cann

This is Jörn Cann.

He was my ward doctor at the haematology unit where I was treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2006.

I was intrigued by him before I even met him. My consultant whispered to me that Jörn had himself been treated for blood cancer, the related but different Hodgkin’s lymphoma. ‘He’ll know what you’re about to go through,’ she said.

Walking round a corner to the ward where he worked, we bumped into him filling a doorway and shout-sharing a joke with some nurses. He shook my hand, put his arm around me, then swore at me for being a Chelsea fan.

That was Jörn in microcosm: warm, intimate and abrupt. I never knew a person who stood on less ceremony.

Readers who knew Jörn will already know why I am writing about him in the past tense. He died suddenly and unexpectedly from peritonitis in September 2011. He was 43.

I have called this piece ‘The art of Jörn Cann’ not because he ran round the wards sketching us while we sat on our drips but because he cared. Of course he did, you might say: he was paid to. Well, yes, up to a point.

The art I am referring to is based on an idea of Seth Godin’s from his book The Icarus DeceptionThere he talks about ‘art’ as a vital force of connection and transformation as the old industrial model of production crumbles around us. It’s the difference, he says, between a doctor giving you results from a blood test and actually sitting down with you to explain its implications.

That’s art. It disregards the training manual and is mindful of the human stories of others, whatever the risk involved. That was what Jörn gave to patients each day of his life on the haematology wards.

Half way through my treatment, when it looked as though my infusions of chemotherapy were not working, it was Jörn who plopped himself on my bed and without losing eye contact explained: ‘If you’re given a shit pack of cards, those are the ones you play with.’ This is one of the great lessons anyone has taught me about life, creativity, and making the most of what is front of you, ever.

Then he told me he had been treated for his own cancer, on an off, since he was 16.

He didn’t need to say it, and had not been asked to, but he did: ‘And look at me. I’m still here.’  He relapsed a week later.

Even though I now only visit the unit once a year, I miss Jörn more than I can say.

I saw him for the last time in a Lidl supermarket of all places. He greeted me as though his day had been building up to this one special moment. We swapped plans for future projects and stories of our families, followed by a brief but incisive dissection of Arsenal’s current form. That was a kind of art, too. Most doctors you see outside of hospital premises run for cover if they see you.

Even though the circumstances of our relationship were grim, I am deeply proud to have known him. These are some of the reasons Love for Now is dedicated to his memory.


    1. Hi Tracy
      How kind of you to comment and great to hear from you. I hope you and yours are all well. You will see from my site that I did write it all down in my book Love for Now. The names have been changed, but you will quickly see which one is Jorn!
      As ever with many thanks and good wishes


      1. Hi Anthony, we are well thanks, as I hope you and your family are too. It’s 10 years this September since John was diagnosed, doesn’t time fly! I bought and downloaded your book and started reading it last night, it’s very addictive and I’m looking forward to be able to read a few more pages tonight. I’ve also shared your blog about Jörn on ELF’s Facebook page; I know a lot of people will be touched when they read it.


      2. Hi Tracy. It’s so good of you yo leave such a kind comment and to post a link to my post in the Elf FB page. Thank you. I’m doubly glad to hear that John is well. That’s great news. I’m good too. Thank you again for spreading the word and I hope you enjoy Love for Now. It is warts and all and I’m glad it’s out there. As ever, Anthony


  1. I wept reading this, remembering with you a great artist of a man I never knew. You are an artist, too, for rendering him so beautifully. Thank you.


    1. Dear Molly
      Thanks very much for your kind feedback. Jorn was an amazing person, and judging by the response I’ve had I am not along in thinking so.
      As ever with good wishes


  2. Anthony, I’m so very glad you wrote this post. I’ve wanted to know more about Jorn ever since I read ‘Riddance’. I thought all my answers would be in ‘Love for Now’, and then they weren’t. But here they are. I KNEW he must have been remarkable, and the comment about the pack of cards, which you quote somewhere in one of the two books, is also one that’s stayed with me. Some people, whatever their job or vocation, have a kind of gift for connection. It’s a magical thing but you know it when you feel it. Sounds like he was one of those. Nell 🙂


  3. What a lovely tribute, he was so special he treated my mum with Non Hodkins Lymphoma we firmly believe that the trust that she had gave her a longer lease of life, we were especially touched that he attended my mothers funeral. I was very upset that he died so suddenly he was an amazing doctor a one off.


    1. Dear Maggie, thank you so much for leaving such a kind comment about my post and Horn. He was indeed a one off and that’s why we miss him all so keenly. With best wishes Anthony


  4. A lovely tribute to such a wonderful man and doctor.
    Rick ( my partner) and Jorn would also be telling jokes / discussing football on the ward
    Two wonderful men both from this world within two months of each other.


    1. Thank you Barbara for your lovely comment. I am so sorry to hear of your own loss. The more I hear about Jorn the more it seems that we each have a unique story to tell about him. He made us feel as though we were the only person that mattered. Such a rare gift. Yours with many thanks, Anthony


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