Chuck Keels celebrated as he rode a bicycle into the St. Augustine Beach pier parking lot, followed closely by his wife, Hannah, and their dog, Jax, in a recreational vehicle.
The cross-country journey began in San Diego and ended at the Atlantic Ocean near the pier, following what's called the Southern Tier Bicycle Route, according to the Adventure Cycling Association.
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The trip was intended to inspire people battling cancer or other challenges. Chuck and Hannah Keels know firsthand what that's like.
Hannah, 48, is being treated for breast cancer. Chuck, 57, was "miraculously" healed from stage 4 prostate cancer and is in remission, he said.
"Can you believe it?" he said as he hugged supporters gathered at the pier. "This is absolutely unbelievable."
The couple, from Scottsdale, Arizona, started the Living Hope Cancer Foundation to provide free coaching for people going through cancer and to provide "inspiration to live life to the fullest." They wrote a book called "Get Up And Live." For information, visit getupandlive.org.
On a recent day, Hannah parked and stepped off the RV. Jax, a miniature Australian shepherd, followed closely. They were greeted by a group of supporters, including cancer survivors, who walked with them to the ocean.
A man blew a shofar, a musical instrument made from an animal horn and typically used in religious events, to mark the occasion. As Chuck dipped his bicycle in the ocean, Jax barked and jumped around in the water. The couple hugged each other and others gathered around them.
'God has a plan for us'
Chuck was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer in 2015 and was expected to live another three months. He was on hospice care and began to prepare for his death.
But a broken back, caused by cancer, sent him to a hospital. That's where Chuck, a Christian, said Jesus appeared to him and touched him on the shoulder.
He was laying on a hospital gurney when he said he had an encounter with Jesus.
"He reaches out and touches my shoulder," Chuck said.
From that day on, the pain stopped and the cancer was gone, he said. That moment not only erased his cancer but also deepened his relationship with Jesus, he said.
"I think that God has a plan for us," he said.
He believes part of his mission now is to tell the story and share inspiration, he said.
Chuck and Hannah joined forces through a mutual connection, who suggested Hannah reach out to Chuck about publishing her book ― Chuck had published his own book about his story. They messaged on Facebook and met over coffee. That quickly blossomed into a relationship and marriage.
Hannah was diagnosed with cancer in 2016 and met Chuck in 2019 when she was a "stable stage 4." Several months after they got married, she broke her neck because of a tumor. That was the first of eight fractures she's had in a couple of years, along with surgeries and other difficulties.
The struggles have helped her as a cancer coach, she said.
"I can speak out of experience, so I understand what suffering is, and I understand how to get hope in suffering," she said.
Part of her mission is to help people get away from feeling like a victim and be victorious, she said.
On the road
Typical days on their cross-country journey lasted several hours on the road, starting in the morning, and then finding a place to stop the RV and rest.
The trip brought challenges. Hannah was actively going through cancer treatment, so she had to return home periodically. And Chuck crashed his bike and was hospitalized. It put the rest of the journey into question.
"We had no idea if we were going to finish this," Hannah said.
But, after prayer, they decided to continue.
"We are cancer coaches," Chuck said. "We coach people away from fear every day."
Getting to the finish line took about 2 1/2 months and 3,000 miles.
Among their supporters at the pier were Lisa Tarantino, a friend and stage 3 endometrial cancer survivor from Port St. Lucie.
Tarantino met the couple through a virtual health coach networking meeting, and they connected as cancer coaches.
"We're just all bonded together by, you know, unfortunately, cancer," Tarantino said. "But this is the blessing that has come out of it. And we all feel incredibly blessed."
Tarantino facilitates a cancer support group at her church.
Showing care is important when encouraging a loved one who has cancer, she said.
"I would say listen," Tarantino said. "Listen to what their needs are. You know, they just really want to know that somebody cares and somebody's there for them. … They really just want somebody to sit and hold their hand and just show compassion and pray with them, to support them."
After they arrived and celebrated, Chuck and Hannah took a break in the shade of the St. Augustine Beach pier pavilion and talked about how it felt to finish the journey.
"Unbelievable," Hannah said.
"It's almost like a dream," Chuck said. "Like, it's not really, you know ― it's like somebody else's life and we're living it."
"Except we actually did it," Hannah said.
"Yeah, we did it," Chuck said.
This article originally appeared on St. Augustine Record: St. Augustine Beach end of cross-country journey for cancer survivors