My guest on today’s episode is Hannah Dekker Keels. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 42 in August 2016. Following her initial treatment, she received another diagnosis a year later. After approximately two and a half years, Hannah was again diagnosed for a third time with yet another type of cancer. Hannah talks about her treatments, writing a book, getting married, and starting a foundation- Living Hope Cancer Foundation. The motto of the foundation is to get up and live.
In August 2016, Hannah Dekker Keels was diagnosed with stage 3, triple-positive breast cancer at the age of 42. Hannah found the lump her breast but as a nurse thought that it was likely a cyst and decided to wait a month to see if it would go away. A month later, the lump was still there. Having recently moved to Phoenix, AZ, Hannah did not yet have a family doctor or gynecologist. She googled a breast surgeon and was able to schedule an appointment but was not seen for six weeks.
When Hannah was seen for her initial appointment, she was told that she needed to have further assessments and see a breast surgeon right away. She spent many hours in the hospital that day and recalls that the doctors had already been talking about the C word. Hannah was scheduled to leave the following day for a mission trip to Fiji, which would last for 12 days. The doctor told her to go on her trip. When she returned home, the diagnosis of cancer was confirmed.
There was not a significant history of breast cancer in her family. She did have a grandmother diagnosed with breast cancer in her late 70’s. Hannah shared that three months prior to finding the lump in her breast, her husband of 21 years abruptly left her and her four boys. It was a traumatic experience and Hannah cried every day for three months. She feels being an emotionally unbalanced state may have played a role in the development of cancer because she was always very healthy and ate all organic.
Hannah was diagnosed with breast cancer in August, divorced in September, and underwent a bilateral mastectomy in October. She opted for immediate reconstruction with implants. Hannah declined chemotherapy and radiation due to concerns with toxins as well as concerns with her immune system. She opted for mega-dosing of vitamin C, which went well for approximately 10-12 months. However, after a year, the cancer had spread to her chest wall, armpit, and lymph nodes. However, the cancer had mutated and was hormone positive but HER2 negative. Hannah was prescribed an oral medication that was a targeted therapy and hormone blocker, which she took for two and a half years. The cancer was stable for approximately two years.
Last summer, Hannah wrote a book- Faith Like Skin- about some of the losses that she has had to go through in her life. As she was trying to figure out how to publish her book, a friend introduced Hannah to her cousin, Chuck, who had written a book and survived end-stage prostate cancer. Through Facebook, Hannah and Chuck began communicating. They met for the first time in person in October 2019, were engaged in November, and got married on January 1, 2020.
Also in January, Hannah and Chuck started a foundation together called Living Hope Cancer Foundation with the mission of supporting survivors and caregivers through coaching and advocacy education. Hannah shared that before meeting Chuck, she couldn’t dream. She didn’t know how to plan for her life and she felt like she almost needed permission from someone to live her life. Through the foundation, Chuck and Hannah help other survivors to live their lives. One of their mottos is to get up and live! They also encourage survivors to have a plan other than the medical plan in case that plan does not work.
In February 2020, Hannah started losing her voice. By March, she began to feel as though something was not right. She had been seen by several professionals but nothing seemed to be wrong. After talking with her doctor, she had asked to have a scan despite having to pay for it out of pocket. The results of the scan showed that Hannah had cancer on her liver and on her pulmonary artery, which was impacting her airway. The cancer had again mutated and was now a triple-negative cancer.
The following day, Hannah woke up and had been throwing up for several hours before deciding to go to the ER. Her husband had to drop her off and sit in his truck in the parking lot. Hannah’s neck was fractured and she had to be moved to a different hospital to undergo surgery. Hannah shared that being in the ICU alone due to COVID was hard for her and her husband. Hannah had to wear a neck brace for 6-7 weeks and had to follow a liquid diet as she recovered from the surgeries.
Hannah had to undergo radiation, which started a week after her surgeries. Half way through the radiation, she began having problems swallowing and had to return to a liquid and pureed diet. She followed up at the hospital but was told it was likely related to her recent surgeries. Shortly after, Hannah woke up in the morning one day and was struggling to swallow her own spit. She returned to the hospital and it was discovered that the radiation had burnt her through and she had significant esophageal ulcerations. Hannah had to have a feeding tube inserts and it took approximately 10 days for her to swallow her spit again.
Hannah has been prescribed chemotherapy. She never wanted to do chemotherapy but it was the only treatment option since the cancer was triple-negative. Hannah’s last scan showed that the cancer is almost gone.
Hannah shared that she has suffered much loss in such a short time but we have a choice every day- we can either lay in bed or we can choose to live with it and live well. Hannah finds ways to meet the negatives with positives and tries to feel alive every day. She and Chuck have gone back to the really simple things in life that are truly special. Hannah does not live in fear. She is thankful for every day that she gets. She can see past the cancer diagnosis and believes that the cancer will be completely gone by next summer.