Former Westminster student fights cancer with faith

Former Westminster College student Landen Hansen smiles in a framed photograph on his bedroom shelf. Hansen was forced to come home from his religious mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer. Photo by Jacob Smith.

Former Westminster College student Landen Hansen smiles in a framed photograph on his bedroom shelf. Hansen was forced to come home from his religious mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer. Photo by Jacob Smith.

Approximately 40 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetimes, according to the National Cancer Institute. Former Westminster student Landen Hansen, who was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, belongs to this group but remains positive through a strong belief in his religious faith.

Hansen attended Westminster from 2014 to 2015, where he played on the men's soccer team and completed his general education classes. Hansen said he likes to tell people he was majoring in soccer until he left for his mission in 2015.

Hansen's mission in Kennewick, Washington was cut short when he was diagnosed with cancer and sent home for treatment.

Close friends describe Hansen as the type of person who maintains a positive outlook on life and always makes the best of a bad situation.

"Landen has been great through this experience," said Jaden Olson, a marketing major and close friend of Hansen's. "He realizes that it's a bad and unfair situation to be in, but his religious views let him know that it's just something he has to go through."

Olson said he was alarmed when he first talked to Hansen about the diagnosis because Hansen sounded calm and relaxed.

"Whatever is going to happen is going to happen, and I'm okay with that," Olson remembered Hansen said to him on the phone.

The Forum spoke with Hansen as he prepares for his fourth round of chemotherapy treatment and transitions from life as a missionary to life back at home. The conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Landen Hansen, a former Westminster College student, turns his head to show the scar from his recent tumor removal. Though Hansen was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer, he has maintained a smile and positive attitude because of his religious faith. Photo by Jacob Smith.

Landen Hansen, a former Westminster College student, turns his head to show the scar from his recent tumor removal. Though Hansen was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer, he has maintained a smile and positive attitude because of his religious faith. Photo by Jacob Smith.

Q: How did you find out you had Hodgkin's lymphoma?

A: As a missionary, you have to shave every morning, which is kind of a bummer. So I was shaving one morning, and I noticed I had a little bit of a lump on my neck. I didn't really think much of it. I had [previously] had swollen lymph nodes but just thought, "Hey, it'll go away." And then after a month it had gotten bigger.

Finally, they did a needle biopsy on it to see what it was, and the doctor told me it was benign and it wasn't cancerous. They said, "It is a tumor, though, so you'll have to have it removed." So I ended up praying about it and I felt like I needed to have the surgery now, and when they went in, that's when they found the cancer.

Q: What was your initial reaction?

A: I went into the surgery expecting to be good in a week and keep finishing my mission, and when I woke up they were like, "Your plane leaves tomorrow." So, it was pretty crazy how it all happened, but it was a couple month process and kind of a big blindside for sure. It was like, "Why me?" But when they told me, and especially when they told me my plane was leaving in the morning, it was just like very overwhelming.

Q: What was your next reaction?

A: One of the strongest spiritual experiences of my life was sitting in that hospital bed because I didn't feel strong enough to do it. And that's just when I felt like I had to reach out to God and I felt a lot of peace when so much craziness and turmoil seemed to be around me. And that's pretty much continued since I've been home. It all kind of started right there. It was a pretty cool blessing in disguise.

Q: What was it like being forced to leave your mission?

A: That was probably the hardest part of the whole thing because there [are] just so many people that as a missionary you meet, and you teach and you build relationships with. And it was just like, "You have 24 hours to pack your entire life up and go home." I thought of a lot of specific people that I wanted to say goodbye to that I didn’t get an opportunity to. So that was the hardest thing about it.

Q: What has the transition from life on your mission to life at home been like?

A: It's a hard transition for any missionary to come home. With my health and stuff it's been a difficult transition, just because the lifestyle of a missionary versus just this, I guess, in this world, is totally night and day. So, I've tried my best to like keep the good habits that I learned on my mission, and that's what's helped me the most.

Q: How do you feel going into your fourth round of chemotherapy?

A: I feel really, really good, honestly. I don't know if it's just because I'm younger and my body's healthier than most, but I really believe a huge part of it is how many people are praying for me, like of all faiths. Just everywhere people have reached out to me and told me that I'm in their prayers. That's been something I've been able to feel has made a big difference.

Q: Do you notice a difference in how people treat you or interact with you since your diagnosis?

A: Yeah, I notice a huge difference in my family, like when I first came home. My whole life I've been pretty independent and kind of do my own thing. They were just very—I don’t want to say over the top—but my family has just been very supportive and helpful with stuff. I don't know. When you have something like I have, people don't really understand because it doesn’t happen to everyone. I think the biggest thing I feel is just that people care.

Q: Does it bother you when people interact with you differently than they did before your diagnosis?

A: I honestly haven't been bothered by anything people have really said. If people told me, "Hey, you can't do this and this and that because of what you're going through now," then I would say "You know, I can do more than you think I can do." But nobody's really said anything like that.

Q: Have you learned anything about yourself through this process so far?

A: It's really kind of made me turn inward and say, like, "Who am I?" And that's where a lot of my religious beliefs and personal spirituality has grown. It's just understanding that I'm not defined by what I'm doing—like soccer of school—but that this is a trial that I'll get through and that I will become stronger as I get through it. I think it's just going to prepare me for future hard things that I'll go through.

Q: Have you learned anything about other people going through this?

A: I think I've realized how much a strength other people can be to me. My eyes have just been opened to, like, how good people are.

Q: What has helped you stay so positive?

A: Continuing to find joy in the small and little things, even if it is a game of FIFA [a soccer video game] with your homies and stuff. The things that I did enjoy before my mission, I still try to do those things now.

Q: What would you say to others going through a similar experience?

A: It's an opportunity to grow. When we go through the hardest and crappiest things, that’s when we grow the most. A lot of people can say that life can deal you a pretty crappy hand sometimes, but you can’t always change that. You can just change how you react to what you experience.