After cancer diagnosis, Va. man returns to making canes

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ELKTON, Va. (AP) — Although he's 72 years old, Bill McDonald is still raising Cain, walking canes that is.

McDonald, a Norfolk native who moved to Elkton in 1985, started carving wooden canes after he purchased one in 1986 and decided he could do better.

His passion for carving canes waned a bit until McDonald, a former Norfolk police officer and owner of Elkton's defunct Country Inn Restaurant, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2012. While going through bouts of chemotherapy, his wife, Susan, suggested he find something to do with his time.

So McDonald returned to carving wooden canes, and since then he's sold at least a dozen at prices ranging from $60 to $300. McDonald now spends two to three hours a day at the hobby when not napping.

He has carved a variety of shapes into the wooden canes, including a snake, a unicorn with a woman, a Native American and an eagle.

The cane that McDonald is working on now is made from walnut. The ornate walking stick has two wooden balls inside the shaft with a snake head on top. He calls it Tubal-Cain, a name taken from a descendant of Cain found in Genesis in the Bible.

McDonald will use any kind of wood for a cane unless it splinters too much, which he said pine tends to do. He usually uses maple, walnut or poplar, although walnut is rather hard to carve, he said.

Hip-replacement surgery in 2007 left him with seizures and a stroke, which caused his liver to shut down.

Then in 2012, McDonald had a new hip of half-titanium and half-plastic installed to replace the first one. It was the original replacement hip, a metal-on-metal one, that he said led to his later health problems.

After being diagnosed with cancer, he recalled that Dr. Brian Robinson, one of his doctors at Sentara RMH Medical Center, told him that since he's survived longer than originally estimated, he's on "God's time" now.

McDonald and his doctor have decided to continue chemotherapy indefinitely because they believe it is helping him, he said, noting that he knows of a 93-year-old Elkton woman who has been taking chemotherapy for 18 years.

For now, McDonald, his wife, their four children — Brian, 47, Scott, 44, Cortland, 26, and Jessica, 24 — and five grandchildren, are happy he's still alive.

"All I got is time now. I sit and whittle at the house. I make a mess. She gets mad at me," he said of his wife, Susan. "It's hard to get out of the carpet."

Susan has helped with Bill's hobby, though. Back in 1987, she posed for him while holding a horse's head.

Those interested in purchasing one of McDonald's canes can call him at (540) 830-2090.


Information from: Daily News-Record,

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