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Getting Pulled Over for Looking Like a Cancer Criminal

How a break from the hospital led directly to an encounter with the police.
PUBLISHED May 18, 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.
"Driver, out of the car. Show me your hands and keep walking backwards, slowly," the cop said firmly to my cousin. I couldn't believe this was going down. It was my first day out of the hospital in quite some time, and here we were being pulled over with my cousin having to exit the vehicle like a known fugitive. I couldn't help but wonder if we were going to be on the TV show, “Cops.” I sat in the passenger's seat, cold and now extremely nervous. Being cold comes with the territory after a bone marrow transplant, and being nervous was just normal considering the events unfolding in front of my eyes. I was wearing my hooded sweatshirt to keep warm and a germ mask to keep from catching any kind of infection. I watched the two in the passenger's side mirror, as my cousin and the police officer talked things out, both standing just outside the car window.

I was just a couple weeks out from my bone marrow transplant. And, just a week or so earlier, I remembered lying in my hospital bed and every single day, looking out of that window from my room in the Emory University Hospital. I could see sidewalks, the track, the parking lot, miscellaneous buildings and people going about their business. I saw the sunshine coming in my window many times, but I didn't get to fully experience it. I never really felt it. Right there from my bed, daily I imagined being on the other side of the window, at the track, on the sidewalk, walking around, enjoying all of the simple things in life that many people do without another thought. I remember seeing cars park in the parking lot one by one and thinking just how much freedom those people had; they could come and go as they wanted. They were going about their lives, and here I was, with other patients, just trying to get through treatment and a bone marrow transplant.

One would think it odd for a person to be cold in September in Atlanta – and a police officer might think it to be even more odd to spot a man driving around another man wearing a beanie hat, sweatshirt and face mask. Nine times out of 10, a police officer would have probably been on the mark - that two guys matching this description were out on a nefarious mission. However, we weren't moments from going in with guns blazing at the local bank, but you might say that I was just busted out of a prison of sorts. I was out of the hospital. I was in the sunshine, finally.

Yes, I had to go back to my hospital room at Emory, but just being out for a few moments was a feeling I will never forget. It's amazing though, the number of times I've been pulled away from my "normal" life, the number of times I've had to put life on pause, and still, I sometimes forget that feeling of losing those small things that make up the pieces of the day – life. That's human nature, I guess.

As a survivor, I would suggest, every time you simply park your car, walk down the sidewalk, enjoy coffee with a friend or even ride around town with your cousin while looking like a bank robber, you are enjoying things that many who are lying in bed on the other side of that window can only imagine.  

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