Blood Work

Written by a renowned children’s cancer specialist, John Graham-Pole, Blood Work is a fictional but true-to-life-account of just such a near-fatal illness. It is also a life-and-death adventure and a coming-of-age romance.

The story tells of sixteen-year-old Moraig (“Raig”) Brossard’s journey through the trauma of cancer and its treatment. It opens as Raig wakes up in a hospital room, utterly unaware of how she came to be there. Events of the past weeks unfold like a high-speed movie: how she’d lost her head to school football star, Hilton Sears, come close to losing her virginity, ended up in a downtown dance hall with a false ID, drunk several Margaritas, blacked out and had to be ambulanced to the local Emergency Room, close to death from blood poisoning from an infected belly stud.

Oncologist Maddie Sullivan lays out the stark reality—leukemia is threatening her life. Raig is hurtled into the maelstrom of cancer therapy, an odyssey which leaves her physically and emotionally scarred and embittered towards the world. Cut off from friends and rejecting her parents’ efforts at support, she draws comfort from Maddie’s loving care—herself a life-long sufferer from spina bifida. But nothing appeases Raig’s despair at losing her blond curls and eye-catching figure, while developing rolls of fat and colonies of zits.

At this lowest-of-low points, a high-school friend texts her that Hilton has been busted for selling drugs. She rejects all further cancer treatment. Her parents’ shaky marriage is rocked by their daughter’s rebellion, plus their own helplessness.  Freed from the hospital’s torments, Raig sets out to recapture her physical and mental toughness, only to suffer a major head injury in a bike accident. Back in Intensive Care, blood presses down on her brain—and her leukemia is back in full force. During emergency surgery she has a near-death experience and talks to her dead grandfather, who reignites her will to live. In her twilight state she agrees to further cancer therapy.

An ally appears: Rap, a high-school senior and hospital volunteer, who introduces her to the drum and the paintbrush. As she battles her way through her ordeal, and her feelings for Rap deepen, she helps her parents draw close once more. The story closes as Raig, now eighteen and newly finished chemotherapy, ponders the uncertainties of her future: Will her parents stay together?  What of Rap and herself? Most of all—will she stay cancer-free, build a career, and live to raise children of her own? As she speeds her bike towards younger brother Ewan’s ice hockey game, these questions give way before a newfound resilience and lust for life.


A beautifully written story that will capture the hearts and imagination of all readers. The narrative, character development, suspense, and tension between the characters are all wonderful. 

Sheldon Currie, author of The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum
and Down the Coaltown Road

A tough, wise, and tender novel about a feisty narrator facing something no teen should have to—but many do. The inexplicable catastrophe of cancer brings an abrupt end to dating, friendships, and daily normality. Written by a renowned paediatric oncologist, this book is authentic in every detail, both medical and emotional. Raig’s unflinching journey through illness will inspire, inform, and even bring joy to readers.                                                           

Troon Harrison, editor and author, Red River Stallion

John uses his rare knowledge and creates a heart-felt story from the perspective of a feisty teen cancer patient. It is told with interesting, well-drawn characters, compelling drama, and a realistic resolution.

Anne Louise MacDonald, children’s author and cancer survivor 

This phenomenal book perfectly depicts the life and death battle of a teen suffering with cancer, including humour, a beautiful romance and even elements of fantasy. All adults and adolescents alike should read this book—it is a great story with hard-hitting medical facts about cancer and amazing characters who show everyone just how precious life can be.

Ispeeta Ahmed, Teen reviewer, aged 14

John Graham-Pole

Since I retired from the University of Florida after 40 years of doctoring, I’ve lived with my wife, Dorothy Lander, a retired professor of adult education, and our cat, Oblong, in Clydesdale, Nova Scotia. We work together with artists, healthcare folk, and many others in our community to explore how the creative arts can benefit our personal and communal health.

Last year, we created HARP: The Peoples Press to publish books, CDs and DVDs on art and health for non-academics—defining both art and health with a very broad reach, starting with The Peoples Photo Album: A Pictorial Genealogy of the Antigonish Movement. We have two more books about to launch—my YA novel, Blood Work, the story of a 16-year-old with leukemia, and I’ve Been There by Cathy Napier, a breast cancer survivor.  And there are seven more books, plus a CD and two DVDs, from many different authors in the works.

Now we’ve mustered our courage to start a blog on our website about the health of our beloved planet. We’re calling it Travels with a Low Carbon Couple. See what you think…

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Book Launch – Book Reading

Reading by John Graham-Pole. Antigonish People’s Place Library.  October 30, 2019. With introduction by Dorothy Lander.

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