I Chased a Thief Into a Ditch and Then Got Cancer

May 1, 2018
Ryan Hamner
Ryan Hamner

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 www.ryanhamner.com

Perspective is important with cancer and remission.

In 1997, life was great. I was 21 years old, on the tail-end of college, which I loved, and was working with my brother and a couple of friends in JCPenney loss prevention. Before you start laughing, we wore plain clothes. In other words, I wasn't walking around the mall with a huge hat, fake badge, pants up to my belly button and a Batman-looking utility belt with only a big radio and flashlight. If this is your gig though, no big deal, I just don't think I could pull off that look.

My first stop, as we called them, was just before Christmas. As I sat in the JCPenney camera room, I observed a guy on camera for about 30 minutes. He was acting really nervous, always glancing up at the cameras, looking around the store. I knew something was going on. Moments later, I was running through the store parking lot chasing after this guy before jumping into a creek that ran in front of the mall to complete the “capture.” I did this all to catch a guy who stole a pair of JCPenney blue jeans. OK, so maybe I did it because it was a little fun and a bit of a challenge.

I was in remission then, about to finish college and catching bad guys. Things were good.

As life would have it, things would get disrupted — the cool job and college. I think when you are diagnosed with cancer, you become primarily concerned with just getting through it, if that's an option. However, when you are done with treatment and in remission, you become concerned with not having another recurrence. The thought of a recurrence is always with you, though, somewhere. Living like this can cause nervousness, anxiety and uncertainty; you’re always waiting on that other shoe to drop. It's the type of thing that sometimes makes you stare off into space just thinking while feeling like you are just watching the world do its thing.

I always lived with a bit of uncertainty. By the age of 21, I had already had cancer three other times, a few crazy infections and one emergency surgery. At the end of high school, when I was 17, I remember finding a small lymph node on the left side of my neck. I told myself, along with everyone else, it was nothing and to just watch it, so I did. I watched it get bigger, so I thought anyway. Some days I thought it was lymphoma again and other days I just talked myself out of the worry. I was fine.

At 21, I was tired of just watching and being unsure. The hard lymph node in my neck refused to go away. I was ready to get the thing checked. I wanted to know with certainty.

When all was said and done, I would be diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma for the fourth time. I had to stop school, quit my job chasing thieves (bummer) and get back to treatment. It wasn't the first time this type of thing had happened however. As a kid, I had to quit karate because of cancer - and I also had to give up playing my favorite sport of all time, baseball. I was a pitcher for the Lions in Little League and a pitcher for the Braves in my own little world.

Having cancer is obviously pretty crummy, but being in remission can put a person in a weird place, too. With cancer, your goal is clearly defined, to some degree: beat cancer. But when you are well, your mind tends to bounce around. It can be draining at times and you learn that much of keeping your sanity is all about keeping the right perspective. But the reality is, in a moment you can go from throwing the curve ball, to having the curve ball thrown at you - and you have to be ready for that.

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