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Two cancer diagnoses and the loss of his son: Artist finds hope and inspiration in the support of his family, friends

Jonathan Roberts • Updated Jan 12, 2020 at 5:48 PM

Joey Van Meenen is in the fight of his life, but the “happy go-lucky” tattoo artist and painter is not alone as he goes through it.

In early 2018, Van Meenen was diagnosed with stage III kidney cancer and quickly had surgery to remove the affected kidney. A few months later, Van Meenen went for a second opinion on his cancer in his hometown of Chicago, where the diagnosis became much more dire.

“Just to get a second opinion, we went to Northwestern (Memorial Hospital), where they did a full body scan and ended up doing another biopsy,” Van Meenen said. “It turns out, I was misdiagnosed with my kidney cancer … and they found a separate lung cancer completely different from my kidney cancer.”

Van Meenen underwent two surgeries while in Illinois, with doctors removing about a third of his right lung and three ribs. After nine months of chemotherapy, things seemed to be progressing well, leading Van Meenen to take a two-month break.

“Basically (in those two months), it spread,” he said.

Within that two-month period, Van Meenen’s cancer spread to his adrenal gland and his stomach, and another tumor was found on his pericardial sac — the membrane that surrounds the heart.

In response, his doctors decided to change his treatment, and started immunotherapy, which treats the disease by boosting the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer, according to cancer.gov.

The change brought hope to Van Meenen, who desperately needed a boost in morale.

“According to my last scan last week, everything is half the size,” he said. “Having a good scan was surprising.”

In addition to the test results, one of Van Meenen’s friends, Cameron Ragsdale, was able to organize a benefit concert and art show for Van Meenen. Ragsdale, a local musician, met Van Meenen late last year, and decided he wanted to do what he could to help keep his friend’s morale and spirits up. 

“Joey was just really down on everything, and it sort of just occurred to me this would be a good way to get him back doing art again and bring some recognition to him,” Ragsdale said.

Ragsdale was right about the show inspiring Van Meenen, who also goes by his tattoo name, “Joey Hashbrowns.” 

“I haven’t done artwork in like a year, so it’s motivating me to start doing what I love doing, which is art,” Van Meenen said. “I’m speechless to be honest, we’ve never really run into that kind of kindness.”

Since plans for the concert were finalized, Ragsdale, Van Meenen and Van Meenen’s wife, Dena Aksel, have been working together to get some of Van Meenen’s artwork together to sell at the show as well.

“It’s been a rollercoaster, but the ups are few and far between so when you get a scan you spike up on that high of hope, but then you have a setback and you hit a low and it feels even lower,” Aksel said. “With Cameron coming out of nowhere with this kind gesture and this effort — it’s another big high that’s kind of surprising and surreal.

“Words kind of fall short of (expressing) gratitude.”

Over the last two years, Van Meenen has undergone eight surgeries related to his cancer, dozens of chemo and immunotherapy treatments and the tragic loss of his 26-year-old son, Cody Beasley, who died in a motorcycle accident in Colonial Heights last March. And despite hitting the lowest of lows after his son’s passing, Van Meenen isn’t ready to give up — something his family and friends hope continues as the 46-year-old continues his treatment. 

“My fight isn’t over yet,” Van Meenen said.

For more information on the benefit concert and a complete list of performing artists, visit the “Benefit Concert and Art Show for Joey Hashbrowns” Facebook page. The concert will be held on Jan. 26 from 1-10 p.m. at the Willow Tree Coffee House, 216 E. Main St.