A drawing of a hammer with the word "hope" inscribed on the head. Above it, three white cats with wings fly in an arc. The image is drawn on a yellow piece of binder paper.

Both pieces of the artwork above are tattooed onto Penner’s arm. They were originally printed on the vinyl record sleeve for Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s “Yanqui U.X.O.” (Nadia Moss)

Ed note: You can help support Brad’s recovery by donating to his GoFundMe, here.

On my inner-right forearm, reaching toward my wrist, is a tattoo of a hammer. Emblazoned on its cheek is a single word: hope. I imprinted this image on my body five years ago to symbolize a long-fought battle inside of me, one that—much like a hammer—holds the capacity to both build and destroy. Sometimes the hammer does both, sometimes a thing must be destroyed in order to build again. But beyond our states of disrepair, no matter how we might imagine destruction as the end of something, there’s always a chance at beginning again, no matter how faint it may feel. For me, one word has carried me through all those realms of possibility. That word is hope.

Six years ago, just a few months into my first semester of grad school, I was diagnosed with classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an aggressive yet highly treatable form of blood cancer which settles and spreads in the body’s lymphatic system. I was 28 at the time, studying poetry and working as a bartender, and in what felt like the flicker of a moment, in one short breath, the floor fell out from under my feet. I had cancer, and either I destroyed it or it would destroy me.

How and why someone of my age would be inflicted with a sudden cancer diagnosis felt like an anomaly, but that was the least of my concerns once I received a prognosis. I immediately entered chemotherapy treatment, which shrunk the lymph nodes back down to size before starting a cycle of radiation therapy. The entire process was swift, my body responded well enough to the treatments, and in October 2018, just six months after diagnosis, I was declared in remission. 

But remission is not the end of the road, nor does life go back to the way it was before cancer. For years I have navigated a path toward full recovery by way of blood tests, imaging scans, quarterly checkups, and a handful of scares. There have been moments where it felt that all I had rebuilt through recovery would suddenly come crashing down, that I’d be right back in the chair as a patient again. So I did everything that I could. I listened to my body. I quit drinking and smoking, ate vegetarian, exercised daily, and took all my vitamins. I slowly crawled toward the five-year mark, a point in the remission process when you are considered “cured,” and in late 2023, after two vials of blood were pulled from a vein just above the grip of my hammer tattoo, I was told just that—I was cured of cancer. 

Honestly, I didn’t believe it. After six years of continuous monitoring, the pinpricks of health anxiety don’t just disappear. I continued listening to my body, and one early morning in December 2023 while covering an encampment sweep along Wood Street in West Oakland, my body decided to speak.

It started with itching. A deep, full-body itch underneath the skin. Then came the night sweats, the low-grade fevers—all of which are considered “B symptoms” for the cancer I had been cleared of just months before. Not everybody with Hodgkin’s disease experiences these warning signs, and I wilfully ignored them at first, deduced it to stress. Some days symptoms were there, others not at all. But as time wore on, as Street Spirit published our inaugural paper back in March, the symptoms worsened, became more consistent. I had no choice but to make an appointment. My body was speaking and it was time to listen.

In early April, I received news that I am experiencing a late recurrence of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. By the time you have read this, I will have been in treatment for over a month. We here at Street Spirit have decided that it’s best I concentrate on my health for the duration of treatment, which my doctors have guaranteed will cure me of this disease once and for all. 

Street Spirit is a community, and our community has pulled together in this moment of need. Alastair has graciously been at the helm for the past two issues, and Laura Zink—writer, professor, Beast Crawl Literary Festival organizer, and a dear friend—will serve as interim Editor-in-Chief through the summer. I am more confident than ever in both our mission and my recovery, and before y’all know it, I will be back.

Until then, to our readers, vendors, loved ones, and friends, please don’t forget that we always have hope.

Bradley Penner is the Editor and Lead Reporter of Street Spirit.