Through verse, Denver’s Dr. Gail Waldstein recalls haunting images of her career

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Photo: Gail Waldstein M.D. pediatric pathologist turned poet
Dr. Gail Waldstein decided to leave medicine to pursue writing after being diagnosed with cancer in 1991.

As a pediatric pathologist, Gail Waldstein sometimes had to give parents bad news about their kids. In 1991, she received bad news herself -- a diagnosis of cancer. So she decided to leave behind medicine and pursue her other passion -- writing.

The Denver doctor's poetry and prose often reflect her time working with very sick children. She also touches on other life themes, including two divorces and raising three children on her own.

Her new book, a collection of poetry called "The Hauntings," will be available through Swan Scythe Press Wednesday.

She spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner about her experiences.

Waldstein on getting her cancer diagnosis:

"I was terrified. I thought I might be dead in three months -- or six months -- and I suddenly realized I needed to change my life completely. ... I [woke] up when I got cancer and I changed everything."

On why she chose the title "The Hauntings:"

"All of the poems came from memory, as most of my work does, and they are heavily laden with emotions that struck me at the time and stayed with me for years, in some cases for decades, about events in my life that haunt me. ... There are autopsies and there are slides that are still floating in my head that I can close my eyes and see certain cells. I can see the faces and bodies of children that I autopsied."

On making a major life transition:

"I had a family of children and a family of close friends who were extremely supportive and who wanted me to go ahead and try something different. But I have to say I have always been passionate about literature. ... I think if you have a passion, you can change your life. I think without a passion, you can have all the money in the world, and I think it's very difficult. Life becomes very difficult and habitual."