Stories and Journeys

My brother has cancer


My brother has cancer! I'm stunned! I'm in shock! What now? My inner and outer worlds are out of sync. I feel scared. I feel so alone. Are you with me, dear reader? If you are, you have taken the plunge into the river of life experiences, with me writing and you reading Stories and Journeys. My brother has cancer. You are devastated. What now? What would you do if the C word came into your life the way it has in mine? Tell your self, tell others or tell me by writing
Writing is what I do. Amy Laederach, CHTP and Healing Practitioner, once told me that writing is how I process my life. Subsequently Tesha M. Christensen asked me to write a column about what I am learning, thinking, experiencing. So, here I go! Are you with me, dear reader? Right now everything seems unreal. Yet I am a proclaimer and celebrator of BEING REAL.

I feel like I am dying inside. I imagine I am returning with my brother to the Oak Park/Highland Park neighborhood of north Des Moines. Sharing the upstairs of the brick house on the corner of 12th and Douglas where we grew up. Starting our lives over. But that's not real.
I feel like I am losing a version of my brother I have held in my awareness for a very long time. Now there is a new version of my brother, unfolding, that includes the reality that my brother has cancer. It still seems not real, like I am living in a dream called "My Brother Has Cancer." What now? A new version of my brother seems to be emerging that I call being with cancer, dying not just yet.

Myself, my brother, sister-in-law, and my two nieces seem to be embracing Richard's diagnosis as an opportunity to learn and grow. An integrative medicine approach. A quality of life approach to health revolving around the roles of adequate rest/sleep, nutrition, a relaxation approach to stress along with lifestyle changes such as food is medicine. We are pulling out all the stops in pursuit of a customized care plan that meets all our needs.

A little over 20 years ago I decided to explore buying a house. My brother became part of a support group I created made up of people with home-buying experience. Richard became a mainstay in support of my home buying/owning experience in the Greater Longfellow-Hiawatha neighborhood. There is evidence of his handyman skills that have contributed to the maintenance of and improvements to this house and property. He was willing to take on the most difficult of projects, rarely charging me for labor, only materials. There is a sense in which this house and property belong to my brother, as well as me. How do I replace someone I regard as irreplaceable?

A new chapter has begun in the life of my brother. I have made a conscious decision, along with others, to be part of that new chapter not knowing how we might be changed by the experience. I already know there will be sad days and happy days while always staying positive. I am hurting right now. To help myself, I am starting to create support for myself. This includes reaching out to Gilda's Club.

I have reason to believe that the folks at Gilda's Club know something about how dance and the arts can help people face a cancer diagnosis. I look forward to re-reading a blog post by Amy Laederach called "Dance as a Path for Healing:Reclaiming One's Self." This is one of her Expressions by Amy blog posts that she had written in her blog at It is a source of inspiration for me.
I look forward to re-joining Dancing in the Streets each Friday, 5-6 p.m. as I check out chance2danceMN on Instagram or email Nan at to get the current location. A time and space where it is possible to experience freedom of movement and expression of self through the joy of dance.
I know my brother reads Stories and Journeys in the Messenger from where he resides in Iowa. This column has been written with him in mind.
My brother who has cancer, matters to me as I cry out from the depths of my being. I love you my brother, with all my heart, more than you will ever know.
His name is Richard A. Hammen. He matters to me!
In gratitude! Stay tuned!
Donald L. Hammen is a longtime south Minneapolis resident, and serves on the All Elders United for Justice steering committee.


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