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Brad Buchanan: Healing Poetry


Few people have survived the nightmare of a stem cell transplant gone sideways. Poet and professor Brad Buchanan was diagnosed with a rare form of T-cell lymphoma in February 2015, and after chemotherapy and radiation treatments, underwent a stem cell transplant at the U.C. Davis Medical Center in 2016. The transplant entailed 129 days in the hospital, a significant though temporary loss of vision and a lengthy recovery period at home. During this time, he was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma induced by the Epstein-Barr virus.

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After participating in a clinical trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering, he was declared cancer-free in early 2017, and is currently still in remission. However, he developed acute graft-versus-host disease which became a chronic illness, and he was forced to retire early from Sacramento State. He now co-facilitates a writing workshop aimed at helping people dealing with issues of illness, disability and recovery. Chimera, his fourth book of poetry, explores his ordeal and his amazing recovery.

Graft-versus-host disease is a potentially serious complication of stem cell transplants. It occurs when the donor’s T cells view the patient’s healthy cells as foreign, and attack and damage them.

In this week’s episode of Watching America, he speaks with Dr. Alan Campbell about his journey and how turning to poetry helped him endure it. He also shares several of his poems that were inspired by his illness and recovery.

Buchanan holds degrees from McGill University (BA in English, 1994), the University of Toronto (MA in English, 1995) and Stanford University (Ph.D. in English, 2001). He taught British and Postcolonial Literature, as well as Creative Writing, at Sacramento State University until his retirement in 2016. His poetry, fiction and scholarly articles have appeared in nearly 200 journals. Find him at bradthechimera.com and on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/bradthechimera/

Listen to the interview.