Cedars-Sinai Blog

Thevi's Story: Finding Beauty During Chemo

Thevi Jean-Louis standing on a California street.

Last year in the midst of the pandemic, 19-year-old Thevi Jean-Louis was diagnosed with cancer. The seemingly healthy teenager was getting ready to start his sophomore year at Bard College when he received the surprising diagnosis—acute myeloid leukemia.  

"He sees beauty in so many things we all walk past every day. Now I look up at the building and I look at it differently, thanks to him."

"At the time, I was teaching surf lessons every morning at Venice Beach," he says. "I would go to the beach and be in the water for about four hours before I started to feel this overwhelming fatigue, as well as being very nauseous and losing a lot of weight."

Nicole Baca, MD, a pediatric oncologist at Cedars-Sinai.

Nicole Baca, MD 

Thevi could tell something wasn’t right. He went to the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai, which he considers to be his home hospital and is the place he was born. Doctors ordered a battery of tests, including blood work.

"It all happened pretty quickly after they got the results of the blood tests," he recalls. "I think I was admitted that night."

The following day, Thevi and his parents received the news and met with Dr. Nicole Baca, a pediatric oncologist, to come up with a game plan. That plan included intense chemotherapy that would have Thevi admitted to the hospital repeatedly for four to six weeks at a time while he received the treatment.  

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

During that time, Thevi rediscovered an old hobby: He began taking photographs around the medical center to pass the time.

"I used to take photos wherever I went with my phone. But while I was actually in the hospital, I pulled the trigger on my first camera that I bought myself," he says.

Taking advantage of times he had "Plaza privileges," or being able to visit the Plaza Level Healing Gardens, Thevi started capturing photos of the architecture of the hospital. At school, he had been interested in sculpting and other artistic expressions as he majored in media arts, so photography was another extension of his artist spirit.

"You could tell his whole mood would change when he came back up from taking photos," says Dr. Baca. "When he was sick and couldn't go out, he just wanted to get outside."

Photography during his admissions helped Thevi not only pass the time, but also helped him cope with his situation.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

"It was kind of a way of accepting my situation because it was a way of documenting the constraints of where I was and kept me grounded in what I was doing," Thevi says.

Thevi's photographs inspired his care team so much that they helped arrange for his images to be displayed on the pediatric floor.

"He would spend time looking at the art around the hospital and talked about how amazing it was, and it meant a lot to him as a patient," Dr. Baca says. "He really appreciated the art, and then he made the hospital into art—so we started asking how we could help get his art displayed."

Thevi's photos will soon be installed on 4 North for all to see.

"He sees beauty in so many things we all walk past every day," says Dr. Baca. "Now I look up at the building and I look at it differently, thanks to him."