Nick Keenan

4 min read

Father-of-two Nick Keenan, of Lindfield, West Sussex, was first diagnosed with a tennis ball-size astrocytoma in 2015 after weeks of having shooting pins and needles down his right arm. He underwent two debulking surgeries, radiotherapy, infusion and oral chemotherapy, prescription cannabinoids and a number of natural remedies. However, he died in November 2020, nine months after being told his tumour had developed into a glioblastoma (GBM). He was just 34 years old.

Here is Nick’s story, as told by his wife Victoria …

Nick had a really interesting life. He was born in Saudi Arabia, in Dammam, and grew up in Dubai. His father is Irish and his mother is South African. He was never really sure what that made him! He went to university in Australia after which he moved to the UK, where we met in 2014. He was everybody’s best friend. Literally everybody who met Nick loved him. He was so kind and fearless and willing to help anyone and everyone. 

Passionate about sport, he was a rugby player, surfer, runner, and footballer until he could no longer play due to not being able to head the ball. He was full of energy and also a bit daring so would push boundaries and always get you to do fun stuff. He was also incredibly smart and very s ake over one of the senior management positions. 

Nick was everyone’s rock, and very much mine. He was incredibly strong and went to work every day after his radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which I was inspired by. 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. He was consoling others as he was dying and did yoga the day before he passed away. He just never gave up. 

Although he’d lost his words and gradually lost his speech over the last six months of his life, he could still make himself understood until the last 10 days. One of the words he could always say was my name, which showed the bond we held for each other.

“It’s not something I’d ever experienced before but, because we had such a deep connection, we were able to talk without using words.”

Despite losing his appearance through bloating and hair loss, which must have been hard for someone so athletic and strong, he never stopped thinking of others. He wrote our now four-year-old twin girls, Rose and Sophia, birthday cards for the first 30 years of their lives. He wanted to be with them in spirit as they celebrated their birthdays without him. Hopefully, it will give them a better idea of where he was at that stage in his life. 

He also got his affairs in order before he died as he wanted to make sure myself and the girls were taken care of. He wrote farewell letters, heartbreakingly scribed by family members as he couldn’t write in his last few weeks, to close friends and family telling them how much their friendship and love meant to him. We also had a chance to write and read letters to him for the same reason. What happened to Nick has really changed me, but it has made me appreciate how important life is every single day. He will never be forgotten.

“Nick’s symptoms started in 2015 with him getting shooting pins and needles down his right arm.”

He said it felt like he was getting an electric shock and complained about it for several weeks. I told him to stop being so dramatic, which I felt pretty guilty about after we got his diagnosis. The pins and needles were coming every so often until Nick went away on a business trip and came home early saying they had become constant. He went to the GP and saw a young, newly qualified doctor, who sent him straight for a scan at St George’s Hospital, in London. 

I was in the gym at the time and, when I turned up at the hospital, I began making small talk about the weather to a really solemn-looking doctor. When I walked in the room and saw that Nick had been crying, I knew something was wrong. 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.”

Nick underwent a debulking surgery at St George’s, which wasn’t overly successful as they struggled to identify what was brain and what was tumour. They began putting plans in place almost immediately for him to start radiotherapy and chemotherapy at the Royal Marsden Hospital, in London hospital. Nick’s first chemo consisted of IV infusions and he took natural remedies alongside them. With his doctor’s consent, he took ‘chemotherapy mix’ homeopathic remedies from Ainsworths, replacing steroids with yoghurt drops that melt on your tongue and are easy to swallow. This suppressed all the side effects of his chemo and we believed it’s what allowed him to continue as well as he did.

“We just carried on with life as normal and thought we were winning, which is when we decided to go ahead with IVF.”

Then, in December 2019, when our girls were just six months old, Nick noticed his speech had become slurred. We contacted the doctor and ended up going back in after Christmas. I’d had a really weird gut feeling that it was going to be our last Christmas and so organised the biggest celebration by inviting everybody to come and stay with us. In March 2020 we found out his tumour had developed into a glioblastoma (GBM) and were told he probably had less than a year to live.

“In fact, Nick lasted nine months from that GBM diagnosis.”

He was awake for his second debulking surgery and had a speech therapist with him to monitor his speech. This meant they could operate for longer and the surgeon was optimistic following the surgery. This is why we were so shocked by his GBM diagnosis. Nick went on to do another course of chemo, which he took orally, and we paid £1,000 a month for prescription cannabinoids to enhance the treatment and help with any side effects. Unfortunately, that second chemo didn’t cut it for Nick.

“We were considering more radiotherapy and a clinical trial but his tumour progressed and we were told there was nothing more that could be done.”

Nick passed away in November 2020. We managed to convince a local hospice to take him after he became unconscious at home one Friday night and started vomiting. I refused to let him go into hospital because it was during the COVID-19 pandemic and I didn’t want him to be on his own. I had read enough to know this was likely the end.

A lovely paramedic spent almost two hours on the phone convincing the hospice to open their doors for us, which they finally did at 9pm. 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, head to toe with his mum. 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 4am the next morning. Nick had always loved his food and we’d spent many weekends having family dinner parties curated by Nick’s brother-in-law, but he went off his food that morning.

“I came home at 6am, washed and carried on being mummy to our 17-month-old daughters, knowing that daddy wasn’t with us anymore.”

Poppy, a miniature dachshund puppy I bought for Nick after he was diagnosed, died six months after he did, to a brain tumour of all things. She went blind and I didn’t know what happened but it was her brain. I just couldn’t believe it. They were inseparable and I think she was sent to look after him so went with him.

Nick’s grave is in a beautiful place, which we call his garden, five minutes’ walk from our house. I had to beg and plead to get the last plot in that part of the cemetery, but it’s somewhere we used to walk to, so is perfect. I’ve planted lots of Tuscan style plants around it to remind me of our favourite place in Italy where we spent part of our honeymoon and revisited many times, including two months before he died. I’m told you’re not supposed to plant much there, but think it’s fitting as Nick always lived on the edge. 

We’ve also planted olive trees at home and had a memorial bench installed on Lindfield Common. The bench overlooks the village cricket and football pitches and is near the coffee shop Nick insisted on being pushed to in order to fetch me an espresso the day before he died. The quote on the bench came from him and is a reminder to the world to make the most of each day.

“Instead of giving the dates that he lived and died, it states ‘Each day is a gift, don’t waste it’.”

Victoria Keenan
June 2023

Brain tumours are indiscriminate; they can affect anyone at any age. What’s more, they kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer... yet historically just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease.

Brain Tumour Research is determined to change this.

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