The "Cancer Graduate"
Deanna Hann will never forget the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I can't stress how my face froze, my teeth chattered - it was just like a shock goes through your whole body," recalls Deanna, who lives in St. John's. "Your world kind of shatters."
It was 13 years ago that Deanna found a lump in her breast and, like any responsible woman, visited her doctor to have it checked out. Given a clean bill of health by her physician, Deanna should have been overcome with relief.
Instead, she says she still had an "empty feeling" that forced her to seek a second opinion from another doctor. And for the rest of her life, Deanna will be thankful for that intuition.
Within days of seeing a second doctor she received the devastating diagnosis of breast cancer. For the next six months Deanna endured chemotherapy, followed by two more months of radiation sessions before she was finally declared cancer free.
"Having to go through chemo and radiation was tough," she says. "I've always been a person that was self-conscious of the way I looked and, as most women are, I was told I would probably lose my hair, which I did."
Deanna's doctors also warned her of the possibility that the cancer treatments could leave a more lasting effect on her life - chemo could make her sterile. In fact, many women who go through chemotherapy experience at least a temporary loss of fertility; some lose their ability to bear children permanently, due to side effects.
"I always wanted children someday. My husband really wanted children, too," says Deanna. Despite the fact that the odds were stacked against them, Deanna says they never lost hope. It is this unwavering faith that Deanna credits for her recovery from cancer and all of the amazing and - some might even say, miraculous - things that have happened in her life since then.
The most important of these miracles occurred December 22, 1999, when Deanna shocked her doctors and gave birth to her son, Kristmundur. In Iceland (where Deanna's husband hails from) the name translates to mean "gift of Christ."
"It's hard to describe in words when that little boy came into the world, how beautiful he was," says a smiling Deanna. "Every day I look at him and I realize how lucky I am."
Not only did Deanna give birth to a child after enduring chemo and radiation, but she breastfed her baby for 10 months - another "miracle."
Now nearly nine years old, Kristmundur is an active, caring and above all, healthy child.
"I refer to him as a 'miracle child' and he knows that," says Deanna. "He knows that Mommy was sick and I wasn't supposed to have children, so he's a miracle."
Although 13 years have passed since that terrifying time in Deanna's life, it still has a powerful hold on her - but in a positive way.
"I call myself a 'Cancer graduate,' I really do, because what I learned about taking care of myself and having inner peace all came from that experience," says Deanna who has since taken up meditation and is a firm believer in positive thinking, eating organic food and doing everything necessary to stay healthy. "After the chemo and the radiation, you do look at life differently and you value every day...Now every year is a beautiful year. I'm not afraid of challenges; I'll take on anything."
In recent years, Deanna has taken several leaps of faith, some of which she isn't sure she would have taken were it not for her life-changing experience with cancer. She's learned how to swim (something she gave up on many years ago); opened her own business, called Newfound Icelandic Designs (located on Water Street in St. John's); and found a unique way to support breast cancer research.
After 10 years cancer free, Deanna decided to do something special for the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre, where she stayed while receiving treatments. Deanna called on her friends and acquaintances from far and wide to donate products to be auctioned off during a Halloween fundraising party for the centre, that she hosted with her husband. She chose that holiday because it coincides with another important annual event - breast cancer awareness month.
"We took Halloween and we gave it a new face!" says Deanna, adding she plans to host the party every five years to continue to give back to the cause.
Despite the hardship she endured 13 years ago, Deanna says she wouldn't change a thing: "Cancer was tough, but it made me appreciate everything around me and look at people differently - look at the world differently." And she hopes to pass her positive outlook on life on to Kristmundur, her "miracle child."