A dying father who was losing his battle with a brain tumor wrote birthday cards for his twin daughters for the next 30 years.
Nick Keenan from Lindfield, West Sussex, southeast England, penned the cards for his now-4-year-old daughters, Rose and Sophia, when they were just 17 months old as he knew he didn’t have much time with them, and he wanted them to have a birthday message from him every year.
In 2015, Mr. Keenan received a shocking diagnosis after suffering from shooting pins and needles down his right arm for several weeks.
His wife, 35-year-old, Victoria Keenan, who owns and runs Stanton Miller Recruitment, was at the gym when her husband returned early from a business trip and said he was going to the hospital.
“When I walked in the room and saw Nick had been crying, I knew that something was wrong,” Ms. Keenan said. “They sat me down and told me they’d found a lesion the size of a tennis ball on the left side of his brain, in the middle of his frontal lobe.
”They said it was slow-growing and had probably been there since he was born.”
Mr. Keenan underwent two debulking surgeries, radiotherapy, infusion and oral chemotherapy, and was prescribed cannabinoids and several natural remedies.
His surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy treatments went so well that he and his wife decided to move forward with their plans to start a family.
“We just carried on with life as normal and thought we were winning, which is when we decided to go ahead with IVF,” Ms. Keenan said. “He also managed to support me going through IVF like any good husband would, even though he was going through much bigger things. It was never about him.”
Ms. Keenan described her husband as everyone’s rock, especially her.
“He was incredibly strong and went to work every day of his radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which I was inspired by,” she said.
However, in December 2019, when the couple’s daughters were 6 months old, Mr. Keenan noticed that his speech had become slurred.
“We contacted the doctor and ended up going back in after Christmas,” Ms. Keenan said. “I’d had a really weird gut feeling that it was going to be our last Christmas and so organized the biggest celebration by inviting everybody to come and stay with us.”
In March 2020, the couple found out that Mr. Keenan’s tumor had developed into a glioblastoma (GBM) and was told he probably had less than a year to live.
He underwent further treatment and was being considered for a clinical trial when he was told that there was nothing more that could be done.
Despite all that he was going through, Mr. Keenan consoled others. During this time, he also wrote birthday cards for his daughters.
“He wanted to be with them in spirit as they celebrated their birthdays without him,” Ms. Keenan said.
In November 2020, after becoming unconscious at home one night, the 34-year-old was taken to a local hospice where he died the following morning—just nine months after his GBM diagnosis.
“My parents dropped everything to look after the girls, who were sleeping, and I slept in a bed in the same room as Nick at the hospice,” Ms. Keenan said. “I believe the last thing he remembered was being at home with his family. He never really knew he went into the hospice and died at 4 a.m. the next morning.”
Two hours later, Ms. Keenan returned home and carried on with her responsibilities as a mother to her twin daughters, knowing that the girls wouldn’t have their father around.
After her husband’s diagnosis, Ms. Keenan had bought him a miniature dachshund puppy named Poppy. Six months after Mr. Keenan’s death, the puppy also suffered from a brain tumor and passed away.
“I just couldn’t believe it; they were inseparable and I think she was sent to look after him so went with him,” Ms. Keenan said.
Recently, as Rose and Sophie celebrated their fourth birthday, they opened a birthday card from their father in which he told them they’d start school soon and should look after each other.
Having seen her husband suffer from a brain tumor, Ms. Keenan is now campaigning alongside the nonprofit Brain Tumour Research to help its petition calling for an increase in research funding to reach 100,000 signatures, in the hope of prompting a parliamentary debate.
The nonprofit is calling on the UK government to ring-fence £110 million (US$143 million) of current and new funding to kick-start an increase in the national investment in brain tumor research to £35 million (US$45 million) a year by 2028.
Brain Tumour Research aims to have the government recognize brain tumor research as a critical priority. Ms. Keenan believes that the increase in research investment would put brain tumors in line with the spending on cancers of the breast, bowel, and lung, as well as leukemia.
“Brain tumors are the biggest cancer killer of children and young people under the age of 40, yet they have received just one percent of the national spend on cancer research since records began in 2002,” Ms. Keenan said.
She believes that this situation is tragic and needs to change.
“Brain cancer is such a complex and difficult cancer to treat and the only way to improve treatment options, or to find a cure, is through research,” Ms. Keenan said.
Epoch Inspired Staff contributed to this report.