JOURNEYS WITH A THOUSAND HEROES: A Child Oncologist’s Story
John Graham-Pole’s thoughtful, moving and surprisingly open memoir traces the arc of his long career as a pediatric oncologist from its origins in the early loss of his mother to cancer, through his early medical training in Britain, his role in the dramatic evolution of cancer treatments in the U.S., especially stem cell treatments, to a more holistic idea of the practice of medicine that includes the use of the arts and end-of-life hospice care. Through stories of his thousand young heroes, Dr. Graham-Pole explores issues core to cancer treatment and the training of doctors, including what treatment risks are worth taking in a fast developing field, what is the nature of informed consent, especially with children—and how does a doctor come to grow as much in compassion as he does in knowledge.
If you have any doubts about the fundamental synergy between science and compassion—and the wisdom that can be gained from respectful interaction with seriously ill youngsters, read this book. John Graham-Pole describes clearly his journey through life with feet planted in two continents, with love for both science and the arts, and with deep respect for both living and dying. And perhaps most importantly, he describes how much physicians and their young patients can learn about life from each other.
Allen Neims, MD, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics; Dean, College of Medicine; Director, Center for Spirituality and Health University of Florida
Why would a man choose the heart-wrenching career of caring for children with cancer? How does a person grapple with the ethics of performing cutting-edge clinical trials on children whose parents may or may not understand the risks? How does a profoundly empathetic soul, who has seen too many die in his care, make sense of this experience and leave the world a much better place? Pediatric hematology/oncology pioneer and consummate thought leader and teacher John Graham-Pole developed brand new therapies that have become bedrock today. Simultaneously, he brought art, specifically poetry, to the bedside to honor young people who lost their life under his care. He was among the very first to bring artists into the hospital to work their healing with patients, families, and staff, co-creating one of the first, perhaps still the leading, Arts-in-Medicine programs globally. His boldness, integrity, creativity, and human empathy shine through throughout this memoir. It is a must read for anyone considering a career in medicine or any branch of health care.
William Slayton, MD, Stop Children’s Cancer Endowed Chair; Chief, Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, University of Florida
Dr. John Graham-Pole is a retired professor of pediatrics. Originally educated in the United Kingdom, he has been a clinician, teacher and pioneer researcher in the field of childhood cancer for over twenty-five years in the U.S. In 1991, he co-founded Arts in Medicine at the University of Florida, one of the nation’s leading university hospital arts program. As well as over 120 scientific publications, he has published poems and essays on the healing arts, and is author of Illness and the Art of Creative Self-Expression. He also performs as an improvisational actor and clown. He has been a board member for several national organizations, including the American Holistic Medical Association, Society for Arts in Healthcare and the National Association for Poetry Therapy. He currently lives in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
If you’ve ever wondered, “How could someone choose a career caring for terribly ill children with cancer?” or “Is cancer treatment really rational?”, then this book is a must read. It is also a call to action for those facing life-challenging illness—in themselves, in those they love, or in those called to the caring professions. Through his introspective lens and knack for sensitive story-telling, Graham-Pole reminds us that seeming conflicts between science and art, objective observation and subjective narration, often melt and mingle as we appreciate their fundamental interdependence. Journeys with a Thousand Heroes is a wonderful book for all who have children, work with children, care for children, or used to be children! At the end of a very fulfilling 40-year career in academic medicine and pediatrics, I only wish I had had the chance to read this when I first set out. Douglas Barrett, MD, Emeritus Vice President, Health Affairs & Chair, Dept. of Pediatrics, University of Florida
John is a pioneer of pediatric compassionate care, and has always been a master of narrative medicine. In this memoir, he puts the latter set of skills on display, as he illuminates the journey that made the former possible. I would highly recommend this book to any provider or caregiver. Terence R. Flotte, MD, Dean of University of Massachusets School of Medicine; Professor of Medical Education; former Chair of University of Florida Department of Pediatrics
In this elegantly written memoir, a devastating early loss fuels a passion to save children’s lives. Both an intimate personal account and a fascinating look at the origins of pediatric oncology, Journeys with a Thousand Heroes is about one physician’s education in love and courage, provided by the youngest and most vulnerable of patients. Wondrously inspiring and absolutely unforgettable. Marcia Trahan, memoirist and editor
Dr. Graham-Pole’s book does not offer trite and easy answers, but describes in true story after true story the lives of those (including that of the author) who come face to face with the “mortal coil” of childhood cancer. The children in Dr. Graham-Pole’s book take center stage - not the drama and technology of a modern hospital, not the diseases, not even the author himself, but each child fully and completely given the essential dignity of telling his or her own story through the author. At times, even the author appears standing back behind the pages to hide his tears, overwhelmed with compassion, awe, respect, wonder at the little lives with cancer fighting their each, unique battle with grace. The triumphs are there too, with modern medicine making cure increasingly possible–but throughout, there is a story to tell and nobody tells it better than John Graham-Pole. Dr. Francis Christian FRCSEd, FRCSC, Clinical Professor of Surgery, Director, Surgical Humanities Program, University of Saskatchewan
Finger-paints, Mr. Potato Head, play-doctor kits, mural-covered walls, giant teddy bears, a red clown nose and mismatched socks…these memories flood back from my being treated for acute myelogenous leukemia as an 18-month-old at Shand’s hospital in the mid-80’s. Despite my dire diagnosis, by God’s grace I remember only my whimsical friend who also happened to be my doctor. I owe him my health 31 years later. Heaven only knows the full measure of the impact John has made on the lives of countless patients facing their darkest moments. His story will inspire countless others in treating the whole patient with art and humor. It should be read by all, because it is one of a life well lived. Gena Young, former patient
The diagnosis of my son’s cancer: the most devastating time in my life. That was how I felt in 1991 when I first met John Graham-Pole. Reading his memoir reminded me how this amazing man defines the meaning of care and compassion. Inspired by his mother’s tragic death from cancer, he dedicated his career to finding a cure for this disease. He is one of the thousand heroes that he speaks of; it is because of him that against the odds my son is alive and well. His book is full of humor, inspiration, and hope. A must read for all concerned with how physicians interact with patients. Val Figliuzzi, parent of former patient
In 2005 our family experienced one of the darkest times any family can know. Jarrad, our almost 18 year old son was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor on his brain stem with less than 30% chance of survival. We were blessed to be at UF Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida with an outstanding medical team. This was where we meet Dr. Graham-Pole. In that very dark place Dr. Graham-Pole helped up find light in laughter. He came bouncing to Jarrad’s room with socks that never match, a big smile, delightful British accent and a ready joke. He immediately recognized Jarrad’s dry humor and played to that. With humor Dr. Graham-Pole lifted Jarrad’s spirits as well as the rest of our family’s. In treating Jarrad’s cancer his protocol included bringing joy, laughter, music, art all to help us find our way back to hope and life. Dr. Graham-Pole never took Jarrad’s condition lightly but also did not allow us to linger in the depressing situation with no hope or joy. In a sky of shining stars Dr. Graham-Pole was our North Star out of darkness. Reading Dr. Graham-Pole’s beautifully written memoir was an insightful look at the life that shaped a truly gifted doctor, artist and humanitarian. Once again I was reminded just how fortunate we were to have Dr. Graham-Pole treating our son. Colleen Kogos, parent of former patient
I will forever be thankful for all that John taught me, from incorporating the arts into my day to day care to compassionate ways to deal with challenging times. There are few colleagues that can impact both care givers and patients and families the way that John has. This memoir tells his beautiful story. Helen Welsh, MSN, RN, Nurse Manager, Adult Oncology, University of Florida
An eloquent and courageous accounting of a life well lived Judy Rollins, PhD, RN, George Washington University School of Medicine
In revealing the immense power of listening, empathy, and the expressive arts, this insightful story urges us all to heed the art of medicine in healing and care giving. Elizabeth Brennan, M.D., Family Physician and Arts Medicine Advocate
In this vividly written memoir, John shows us doctoring as doctoring should be . . . deeply compassionate, respectful and gracefully fueled with love and honesty. It is enthralling from the first pages to the last, and is devastatingly and inspiringly moving at the same time. He has woven a tapestry of humanity with threads of illness, loss, insight, art and humor. And, in a book about the art of caring, he has created a truly beautiful work of art. Jill Sonke, Director, University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine, Asst. Director, UF Health Arts in Medicine
Never shying away from both heartbreak and humor, each page is an honest and fascinating look at the life of a doctor’s quest to bring not only healing but wholeness to his patients and himself. Rev. Peter Andrew Smith, Author, All Things are Ready and Lectionary Stories for Preaching and Teaching
This memoir helps us understand not only how important are art, holism, and spirituality in medicine, but how their importance came to be recognized and accepted. It has my highest recommendation. Anne Camozzi, M.Ed., educator, silk artist, author of “Galaxies: Serenity Within” and disability advocate and leader
John’s bonding with sick children, parents, and caregivers brings the reader a powerful dose of humor and pathos. Keep tissues handy. At the same time, be ready at any moment to stand up and dance with joy! Gail K. Ellison, Ph.D., Writer in Residence; Adjunct Faculty, College of Medicine & Center for Arts in Medicine, University of Florida
How sweet it is that a man can compose a memoir of their life that is filled with loving others. And not just loving but caring for sick and dying children and their families for 40 years with glee. I met John when he was a young doctor using play in medicine in a beautiful and accepted way. And with this new book, his letter to his long deceased mom was the clincher. Everything I love about myself came from my Mom. So John, I stand with you: “Yea! Mom! Moms can surely make fine doctors!" Patch Adams, M.D., Founder and Director, Gesundheit Institute