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The Kids at the Chemo Clinic: I Thought They Were Just Like Me

A friend at the chemotherapy clinic told his story, but never said a word.
PUBLISHED March 01, 2017
Ryan Hamner is a four-time survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma, a musician and a writer. In 2011, he wrote and recorded, "Where Hope Lives" for the American Cancer Society and the song for survivors, "Survivors Survive" used in 2015 for #WorldCancerDay. Currently, he operates his website for those affected by cancer, 2surviveonline.com and drinks a ridiculous amount of coffee per day.
When I had cancer as a child, I didn’t really know what I was up against. As long as my parents made me feel safe and stayed positive, well, I trusted I’d be OK.

Now I’d much rather put together some happy story about my battles with cancer for you, but the story I’m about to tell was a turning point for me as a child. It’s not exactly happy, but it’s worth telling—and it’s one that should be told.

My earliest memories of being treated for cancer are filled with great people with huge hearts trying to help me through some of the hardest times that I can remember. Looking back, they all knew what was going on. They all knew what was at stake, but they just smiled on through it.

The day before treatment, oftentimes Sundays, I’d become overwhelmed with anxiety. I’d think to myself, “Tomorrow at this time, I’ll be sick.” I’d constantly watch the clock. I would calculate exactly how many hours I had until chemotherapy.

During the countdown, I’d try to make every single minute count by cramming in as much playtime as possible—riding my bike, playing with my army men, climbing trees and just trying to forget the time that was passing.

When the next day finally came. We’d all wake up early, swing by McDonalds for a biscuit (without fail) and drive two hours to Atlanta.

I usually couldn’t keep my eyes off of the clock. I would try to distract myself by chatting with my parents, listening to my Walkman or playing with my G.I. Joes. (We didn't have smartphones back then, folks.)

When we finally got to the clinic, I’d get my blood-work done and go sit in the waiting room with all the other kids—all of us were waiting for our name to be called for our dose of chemotherapy. This is one of the rare times that kids didn’t like to be picked first.

During my time going for my treatments, all the kids pretty much blended in together. I just saw kids in a clinic—kids getting chemotherapy, just like me.

With time though, while sitting in that waiting room over the course of my many treatments, I began to notice one particular boy who sat across from me. I never got his name and I’m not even sure we ever spoke. We just occasionally looked at each other. I figured for the most part, he was just like me—just another kid waiting in line to get chemotherapy.

One day however, and I’ll never forget, the boy that I sat with in the waiting room so many times—the kid who had slowly lost his hair from his treatments, showed up to the clinic. Things had changed. He was not just like me, he had lost his leg.

This was one of the first times I truly realized the magnitude of what was going on. We weren’t all the same kids in a clinic. We were all different with different stories—and we would all have different outcomes. I might not have known how to articulate the impact of this at the time, but I definitely got the message—and it was a hard one to take.

As my treatments went on, occasionally I’d I see my friend. Until eventually, I never saw him again. I’d like to think that he overcame it all, just like me.
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