(OMAHA, Neb.) — When a faith-filled pastor from Omaha, Nebraska, had a health scare, she embarked on a weight loss journey and dropped nearly 250 pounds in three years — which helped her to survive cancer.
“The weight loss journey gets frustrating because you blow it sometimes – and you just kinda lose it,” Keasha Hawkins told ABC News of her 247-pound weight loss journey. “But every day is new, it’s a brand new day, begin again.”
Hawkins’ journey began in summer 2016, when she had trouble breathing walking to her car and thought, “I’m gonna die here.”
“I said a quick prayer, ‘Lord, please get me through this,'” Hawkins said. “I made it home, but struggled through the night, so I went to the emergency room.”
Hawkins said the doctors ran various tests, but she was concerned she wouldn’t meet the 500-pound limit for the ultrasound machine. When the nurse weighed her, she was 498 pounds.
“I literally said to myself, ‘If there’s a possible life saving test that I need to take and can’t because I’m too big, then that’s too damn big,’” the pastor at Sure Foundation Ministries recalled.
The tests revealed a blood clot in her left leg had made its way to her lungs.
“That’s the day I said ‘I can’t live like this anymore.’ I started my weight loss journey and I’ve never looked back. It’s been three years and I’ve lost almost 250 pounds,” she said.
Hawkins, now 44, tried various diets and workout apps, but a member at her church suggested MyFitnessPal, an app sponsored by Under Armour that tracks weight, diet and activity, which she credits for her continued success keeping the weight off.
She believes MyFitnessPal worked because “it wasn’t restrictive like most other diets.” The app’s calorie breakdown helped her decide what and how much to eat.
“I tried to put more good in and not focus on taking the bad out — so I added fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said. By default, she also eliminated more processed foods.
By the end of 2017, Hawkins lost nearly 125 pounds, but in January 2018, she went back to the emergency room with “a sharp pain” in her side. Hawkins said doctors “couldn’t find the source of the pain, but in the process they found a large fatty mass.”
The mass was biopsied and diagnosed as a cancerous well-differentiated liposarcoma, a rare cancer of connective tissues that resemble fat cells under a microscope.
Hawkins met with Dr. Jason Foster, an oncology surgeon at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Dr. Nathan Bennion, her radiologist, who explained she could do nothing and let it continue to grow or try to cut it out.
“I said, ‘I’ll take surgery for $200, Alex,'” Hawkins said. “I probably would’ve lost my mind if I didn’t have my faith in God and a positive spin on things.”
“The plan was radiation for three months, Monday through Friday, and then surgery to remove it,” she explained.
“Miracles happen all the time,” Hawkins told herself at the time. “I don’t care how insurmountable it looks.”
In September 2018, Foster’s team of surgeons successfully removed the 15-pound cancerous mass, which had wrapped around her pancreas, forcing the surgeons to remove it along with her left kidney, spleen, part of her diaphragm and both of her ovaries in a 10-hour surgery.
But on top of her own health struggles, Hawkins’ father was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer one week before her surgery. He was admitted to the same hospital, so she was able to see him the morning of her procedure.
Hawkins was discharged on Oct. 5 and is considered in remission with scheduled follow up appointments every six months. Just four days after she got home, however, her father died.
Getting back on a diet plan was difficult Hawkins said, “because my tummy was irritated with all the preventative medication — it was hard to eat and I was sensitive to smells.”
But she was determined to keep up with her weight loss more than ever, and her father’s death also served as “motivation.”
“It’s been quite a journey. She’s very thankful to God for getting her through and helping her grow,” Bishop Michael T. Moten, who’s known Hawkins since she was 14 and lived in their Boys Town community program home, told ABC News.
Moten ordained Hawkins as a pastor and has been like a second father figure for her and the two regularly meet up.
“She’s very determined and really trying to stick with it,” he said of her healthy lifestyle.
“I wasn’t gonna lose the progress I made with that because of cancer, because I owe it to God, myself and my son [Kijuan, 8] not to throw it away,” she said, adding that now, she’s incorporating exercise.
As of July 2019, Hawkins dropped 247 pounds and currently weighs 260 pounds. She has continued to eat small meals with limited processed foods, learned to stop when she “feels full” and drinks plenty of water.
Hawkins shared some words of wisdom for others who may be going through weight loss or a health battle: “You have to rely on something stronger than you. For me that’s God.”
Hawkins prayed for God’s help as the cancer made her weak. Her mantra after cancer has become, “When I’m weak, then am I made strong.”
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