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1993 - A busy year


Dealing with cancer
Donald Hall Poet
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So we set about immediately to remove it. Dartmouth-Hitchcock is a medical school hospital only an hour away from here, and I went there to have... I think it was four feet of colon removed or something like that, and some of the small intestine and it's unpleasant enough, but, I came home full or energy and I think it's survivor's mania. I was doing all sorts of things in bad judgement at that time - I was quite happy but I had no judgement at all.  And I did not have any chemo at that time, and I recovered but we were looking at the word cancer, and the possibilities of mortality more directly than we had before.  And then just a year and a half later, there's a blood test for the presence of colon cancer, that works with some people and works with me, called a CEA.  So I had this test done regularly - no symptoms - suddenly the CEA went from say, 3.7 to 34, and we knew that there was cancer someplace, and ultrasound, the CAT scan revealed a large cancer in my liver. It was technically not liver cancer, but a cancer of the liver, that was metastatic colon cancer and I saw it on ultrasound at one point... rather large... the... the woman technician running the ultrasound said, 'Oh, it looks like an hourglass', which I thought was a nice metaphor.  And we set about to remove that. Now when you have... it was in one half of the liver, visibly large, and so that the thing to do at that point is to remove half of the liver.  But in... oh, 70 or 80% of the people who have cancer in one half of the liver, it is invisibly in the other half as well, so that the survival rate for... the five year survival rate or something is rather poor and we knew this of course. I went into the hospital and [had] half my liver removed, and came out, had chemotherapy then for a while, which in my case was not very onerous - that chemo - as it is for many people.  But we were waiting to... for the cancer to come back and me to die - this was 1992 when I had the operation, April 1st, and then the chemo over the summer and the fall.  And... but we continued with our work. I worked after the first colon cancer - I dropped a long project I had, because there were other things I wanted to finish... poems and a revision of a... of an earlier prose book.  And I was certainly thinking that my time was probably short and that I had to imagine what I... what I could get done in the meantime. Jane felt that way too. After the liver... Jane kept rubbing me, massaging me, all the time - every day - and that felt very good, and so on.  But she also felt that somehow she was rubbing the cancer out... we were possessed by all this and it hovered there always.  It didn't possess us all day after a while, but we expected that at one point, my... something would... would reveal that the cancer had spread to the other half of the liver, and you can't have both halves out - there were no liver transplants at that time.  I don't think there was much for cancer anyway now, but it didn't happen that way... it happened otherwise.

The 14th US Poet Laureate Donald Hall (1928-2018) was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, then earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1951 and a BLitt, from Oxford in 1953. He published many essays and anthologies of both poetry and prose including String too Short to be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm, White Apples and the Taste of Stone, Without: Poems, and Ox-Cart Man, a children's book which won the Caldecott Medal. Hall was editor of the magazine Oxford Poetry, literary editor of Isis, editor of New Poems, and poetry editor of The Paris Review. He won many awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and a Robert Frost Medal. At the end of his first Oxford year, he also won the university's Newdigate Prize, awarded for his poem Exile.

Listeners: Kendel Currier

Kendel Currier started working for Donald Hall in August of 1994 as his correspondence typist. Later she took on his manuscript typing as well, and in October of 1998 moved 100 meters down the road from Donald and became his personal assistant, adding many various new tasks to her work. As well as working for Donald for the last 10 and-a-half years, Donald Hall and Kendel Currier share a set of great (or for Kendel great-great) grandparents, making them distant cousins and part of a similar New Hampshire heritage.

Tags: Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Jane Kenyon

Duration: 4 minutes, 18 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008