Hanna Cooper: Finding healing in the midst of serious illness

Hanna Cooper

Hanna Cooper’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer came out of the blue. She was just shy of 49, healthy, active, and busy with her career as an executive and team coach for businesses and nonprofits.

Despite her youth and vigor, Cooper’s illness is serious. Initially, she went through six weeks of chemotherapy and had a complicated, 12-hour surgery. Earlier this year, she learned that the cancer had spread. She is being treated with chemotherapy and is doing well – and her cancer is relatively stable.

She requires a team of Allina Health specialists and other care providers to help her fight the illness. But equally important are the providers who help her find healing in the midst of a life-threatening condition.

For Cooper, that includes her doctor from the Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing, and her cancer rehabilitation specialist from the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute® and Virginia Piper Cancer Institute®.

“When people learn you have pancreatic cancer, some look at you like you have a black X on your forehead,” said Cooper. That’s not what happened when she met Matt Abeln, MD, an integrative medicine physician from the Penny George Institute.

“He saw me not as a cancer patient, but as a whole person,” said Cooper. “It’s not just that he’s had excellent training and has the skills to relate to people this way. It’s also that he works within a system that allows him to have longer appointment times, so he has the time to practice this way.”

In preparation for her surgery, she was referred to cancer rehabilitation specialist Liat Goldman, MD. While many people with pancreatic cancer are older and less fit, Goldman could see this wasn’t the case for Cooper. Being seen as a strong, multidimensional woman, not just a cancer patient, was empowering.

“These were two physicians letting me know that they saw something for me, that they were not giving up,” said Cooper. “Their support is invaluable to me.”

Cooper noted that healing is not the same as curing. “Regardless of the diagnosis, there is always a continuum of healing. I’ve been able to work with physicians who understood that. I think that’s been important in getting as far as I have, and I hope to be here a bit longer.”