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Bear Huntin', Bone Marrow Transplants and My Brother Sam

How a total stranger from Tennessee turned out to be my brother.
PUBLISHED March 17, 2018
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. Recently, he published his book, This is Remission: A Four-Time Cancer Survivor's Memories of Treatment, Struggle, and Life, available on Amazon.
"We're brothers, you know?" That's what my buddy Sam always said.

"We're gonna' go bear huntin' when we get out of here," he would say.

"Well, you know I'll be ready," I'd say back. Knowing I didn't have the patience to hunt anything.
Sam was from Tennessee. He was a 65-year-old who had lung cancer. We met at the Hope Lodge in Atlanta while I was going through my bone marrow transplant and he was being treated at the local VA hospital.

If he didn't tell you, you would've never known that Sam was battling lung cancer. As a matter of fact, when I first saw him, he was standing at the edge of the road that ran out in front of the Hope Lodge, smoking a cigarette, of all things. He had a very unbending look on his weathered face. I thought maybe he was taking a break from the daily stresses of being the caretaker - standing there, preoccupied with worry about the future.

I got to be close to Sam and his wife Barbara while staying at the Hope Lodge. Many of us who stayed there got to be close to each other. We'd pick up the slack for one another, cook for each other and live our lives as normal as possible, considering the circumstances. Living "normal" often meant simply sitting downstairs watching TV at night, laughing and acting like teenagers. The evenings were the time to forget about the struggles that took place earlier in the day and put off worrying about what the next day would bring.

Sam always stood out to me. He always kept his cool, had what appeared to be an unshakable state of mind. I mean, I never saw him down, ever. I just really couldn't ever get a reading on where Sam was with his treatment or his prognosis because of how he carried himself. So, I just judged it all based on his warm attitude and how he treated me and others – good.

Sam was the guy that you wanted around when things went south, not because he had any medical background. I mean, he was the guy with lung cancer who still smoked cigarettes regularly. However, Sam was also the guy that made everything seem all right. He was the fun guy - the man that cheered everyone up and checked in on everybody. That was my buddy Sam.

He always checked on me, like the day I had a nasty allergic reaction to blood platelets. It was an insane and terrifying day. I felt lucky to even be alive. After the whole ordeal, Sam showed up to my room and poked his head in with his usual smirk, followed by, "You fakin' it again?" That's exactly what I needed. I didn't want the serious, dramatic stuff. I wanted the simple and normal temperament. Sam was peaceful and calm, always.

Sam and his wife Barbara would end up leaving the Hope Lodge shortly before I did. He had finished his therapy. I remember as a memento, he gave me his old Casio watch. It was simple like him, but served a purpose.

A year or so later, I had the opportunity to go and visit Sam and Barbara in their home state of Tennessee. His home and where he lived were as peaceful and calm as he was. Unfortunately, it was the last time I got to see my brother.

Today, when I want to gripe about my health, job, life, maybe I should just try to be like Sam. Maybe I should instead toughen up a bit, reach out to others and try to be the peace that my friend was. It shouldn't be hard to do, Sam and I were brothers, you know?

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