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Actually, I Was Really Lucky

A cancer survivors take on comments regarding cancer.
PUBLISHED August 13, 2018
Ryan Hamner is a four-time survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma, a musician, and an award-winning author. 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. His website is

If you were to survive being struck by lightning, some people (including me) might say you were, "lucky," – survive a plane crash, the same. But survive cancer, and you might not always hear the same.

Recently, while talking to a stranger about health, I briefly mentioned my story of having had cancer four times. Their immediate response was, "Wow, you're just pretty unlucky!" I was a little shocked about how flippant this person's response was. I mean, I didn't feel that they owed me some commendation or anything, but, really, a lifetime of survival is considered unlucky?

Seriously though, when I think about it and put it in perspective, did this person really mean any harm? No, probably not at all. Did this person say something pretty dumb? Well, yes – but then again, I often say things that are pretty dumb. Just ask anyone who knows me (really, like anyone).

I think that with some things, it just comes down to being able to relate; many people can't, which is actually a good thing. I've been guilty of this same type of dismissive attitude. When I think of times in the past, talking to some of my friends who are soldiers and have served overseas, I can't relate. For those who have shared stories with me, I literally have nothing to offer back and have often not been able to respond, at all.

With cancer, by now I've heard just about everything. Years ago, when I had a shiny bald head, someone at the mallsaid, "Dude, you look like you have cancer!" My buddy and I laughed until we blew snot because the comment was so ridiculous and well, I did have cancer.

Other fun comments have included, "I mean, is there even anything in there?" About reproductive impacts of cancer treatment. (I'll let you do the math on this one.)

And just recently, a survivor I talked to shared a story with me where someone told him, "Yeah, I know someone who had colon cancer, too. She died from it." This comment was in response to him sharing his story of having had colon cancer.

Again, I honestly think most people mean no harm, at all. I mean, some of the odd questions I have been asked have made plenty of sense, but just sounded weird. Heck, I've even made jokes and comments about things and then have paused and thought, "Wait, do over please?"

I’ve learned about my own awareness from other people's silly, out-of-touch comments about cancer. When someone shares something with me that was a life-changer for them, even though I might not fully understand, I listen and take it seriously. I try to understand more how this person feels or what they are going through. Who knows, I could be in that same position one day.


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