Besting the unseen foe
Douglas Hanna has faced many life or death situations during his 32-years as a police officer. He’s had a suspect place a gun to his forehead and pull the trigger. The firearm did not go off. Later testing showed the gun had a weak spring and sometimes would not go off. During another encounter, he recalled he and his former boss, Basil Dean (deceased), chasing a suspect who was wanted for killing a police officer, who had run into a building. They decided to enter the building in pursuit. Hanna, who was in front, saw the wounded suspect sitting on the ground, gun in hand, pointed at the door, waiting for the officers to enter. He was a little more prepared with his firearm during the incident and was able to fire at the suspect, who also got off a shot that left a mark on Hanna’s face. These were just two of a number of close encounters with death he faced and survived during his tenure in law enforcement.
It was decades of having to pay attention to other people’s problems, and he recalled averaging two hours of sleep per night, with little time for himself.
“I had to pay attention to everything else except my plight,” he said.
But when cancer “reared its ugly head” in the form of colon cancer – Hanna had to retrain the focus toward himself, which he should have been doing all along, considering he had two close family members who had died due to cancer – his mother Gladys Hanna-Robert from colon cancer, and his sister Mizpah Hanna from bone marrow cancer. He also noted that his former boss, who died from colon cancer, had encouraged him to have a colonoscopy done.
Hanna did not immediately take that advice.
In late 2011, at age 59, Hanna began to experience digestive health concerns. He started seeing symptoms – lack of energy and pain in his stomach that was sensitive to the touch, which he didn’t think much about because he’d had gastroenteritis problems all his life. But when he noticed blood in his urine, he knew something was wrong and that he needed to be checked out.
The 66-year-old Hanna admitted to being worried and thinking that if it was a cancer diagnosis he didn’t know if he would have been able to deal with it.
“I’ve been shot at … [but] I didn’t see me being able to deal with any type of cancer.”
A physical exam and colonoscopy in February 2012 revealed Hanna’s worst fear – he had stage three colon cancer – a large blocking tumor in his colon, and the cancer had spread to his lymph node.
“When I awoke from the colonoscopy, the doctor was there looking very sad, and my wife was standing there with her eyes filled with tears when they told me there was a tumor and it was malignant. I said whatever that word means are you saying it’s cancer. They said ‘yes’. I said okay, what can be done about it,” he recalled.
“After having some close encounters in life because of my job, I always thought that God gave you wisdom, God gave us strength. When the doctor told me that, I didn’t say it aloud, but I thought, ‘God is going to give me the strength for this body to be able to fight this thing’, so I wanted to know what was the next step.”
Hanna had surgery to remove a portion of his colon and the tumor, which he said was a relatively issue-free process before the real “journey” for him, which was six months of chemotherapy treatment. He had treatment every two weeks for half a year.
The medication sapped much of his energy and killed blood cells, but mostly caused him severe gastritis-type pains. He said sometimes it was a struggle to just stand or walk for long periods, which meant continuous work and his other responsibilities were a struggle – but not impossible.
Since January 2013, Hanna has been cancer-free, but he realizes his fight continues.
As a police officer, he’s stared death in the face and come out on the other side; he’s also waged war with cancer and lived to tell the tale – his advice to others, and most especially men, is to not be afraid to get their medical checkups. It’s advice he happily doles out to his friends now.
Hanna is one of 14 cancer survivors and fighters who will be honored later this year during Gillian Curry-Williams’ fashion for a cause event under her Remilda Rose Designs brand. He’s the lone male honoree.
Hanna willingly shares his story when speaking to people one-on-one, but he never sought publicity; accepting the nomination gives him an opportunity to now share publicly. He said it’s much worse not knowing.
“I really accepted this nomination because although I speak plenty to lots of persons, publicly doing it like this really brings highlight to what advice I’d give to other persons, which is that this stuff doesn’t choose who it’s going to want to go to. It doesn’t choose the big shot. It doesn’t choose the poor man. And more than anything else, to highlight the effort that is being done by Mrs. Williams to bring attention to this,” he said.
He recalled attending a funeral for another former police officer who had died from cancer, prior to having his colonoscopy, and chatting with fellow former officers outside the church, telling them about the medical checkup he was going to have because he was concerned about some things. He said there were five men chatting and that every one of them said they didn’t want to know if they had cancer, because if they knew they felt it would kill them, which is an attitude he said too many people have.
Seven years cancer-free, Hanna said his experience wasn’t as bad as other people who have told him stories of real struggles. And while he says women are more apt to speak about it, after being involved and talking to women and hearing their stories, he said more men need to speak out.
“I’m now more aware. Even though I’ve had cancer, I didn’t seem to be aware of all this stuff that’s going on,” he said.
Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.