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Distributed for Acre Books

Our Cancers


Poet and playwright Dan O’Brien chronicles the year and a half during which both he and his wife were treated for cancer.

On the fourteenth anniversary of 9/11—an event that caused their downtown apartment to become “suffused with the World Trade Center’s carcinogenic dust”—Dan O’Brien’s wife discovers a lump in her breast. Surgery and chemotherapy soon follow, and on the day of his wife’s final infusion, O’Brien learns of his own diagnosis. He has colon cancer and will need to undergo his own intensive treatment over the next nine months.

Our Cancers is a compelling account of illness and commitment, of parenthood and partnership. This spare and powerful sequence creates an intimate mythology that seeks meaning in illness while also celebrating the resilience of sufferers, caregivers, and survivors.

As O’Brien explains in an introduction, “The consecutiveness of our personal disasters, with a daughter not yet two years old at the start of it, was shattering and nearly silencing. At hospital bedsides, in hospital beds myself, and at home through the cyclical assaults of our therapies, these poems came to me in fragments, as if my unconscious were attempting to reassemble our lives, our identities and memories . . . as if I were in some sense learning how to speak again.”

102 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2


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"Our Cancers is an excellent example of Shelley’s secret alchemy, which turns 'to potable gold the poisonous waters which flow from death through life.' . . . [O'Brien's] skillful enjambments give a hypnotic effect to the stream of poems; lacking titles and punctuation, they lull the reader into a trance-like state which alone, perhaps, makes their content bearable.  . . . Writing the truth, he says, 'saved him.' And it has produced an exquisite and terrible beauty in these pages."

Times Literary Supplement

"O’Brien explains that his obligation as a writer is 'To tell others the truth, as skillfully as possible. To make art out of pain. To heal.' Our Cancers tells his truth not only skillfully but masterfully, making from pain a lasting chronicle of art that traces fragmentary moments of healing over time."

North American Review

"[A] powerful [meditation] on being a husband, a father, and a human while dealing with the very real possibility that it could all come to an end."

Katie Couric Media

"Deeply personal and touching. . . .  A testament to resilience during ongoing trauma, these poems carve out snippets of wonder and remembrance to eulogize twin disasters. This collection reminds us that there are moments in any given day, even the bad ones, that are worth remembering."

The Fiddlehead

"The title of this new volume of poems by playwright Dan O’Brien is heartbreaking. Our Cancers is an account of the illnesses suffered by both by O’Brien, and his wife, Jessica. In an especially harrowing twist of fate, O’Brien discovers he has colon cancer on the very day his wife receives her final treatment of chemotherapy. . . . The reader is called to witness, to hold the sorrow, to understand. . . . We might wince, look away, or we might gaze and offer a hand. I think that is O’Brien’s message for his readers: anyone one of us can be so afflicted at any time in our lives. Our Cancers then becomes universal, a quiet warning. "

The Key Reporter

"Like all those who write about their own illness and suffering, O’Brien offers up the deepest recesses of his pain for the rest of us to pick over and examine. These are sparse and beautiful poems to live by."

Magma Poetry

"O’Brien’s books are raised far above the run of subjective accounts of recovery."

Wild Court

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