The Bright Side of Blindness

If Hannah Dangle could offer one piece of encouragement to the world, it’s this: “you can do hard things.” And doing hard things is something Hannah knows a thing or two about. In her 23 years of life she’s overcome daunting diagnoses, and now is navigating total blindness.

Hannah was first diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma in October of 2019. The cancer attacked her entire body. “I was diagnosed on Halloween, which makes sense. This was not a Christmas kind of diagnosis,” Hannah said, her sense of humor shining through.

She immediately began an aggressive treatment plan that included radiation and chemotherapy. It cost Hannah her hair, her health, and many of the hopes she held for herself, but it saved her life.

“By April 2020, I was in remission,” Hannah said. “Then four months later, I was blind.” One night Hannah had an inexplicable urge to go stay at her mother’s. She awoke in the middle of the night to extreme darkness. Opthamologists soon confirmed the intensity of her radiation had permanently damaged her vision.

Still, Hannah’s humor and positivity are infectious. She attributes this to her faith, and the family and friends who support her–especially her mother (who happens to be her next-door neighbor), and her husband who she says has offered unconditional love throughout it all.

“I was able to see him propose to me,” Hannah said. “But I was blind by our wedding.” Like her wedding, college has also looked different than Hannah would’ve predicted. Health issues have forced her to medically withdraw from classes three times. Now, Hannah is back on track to earn a degree in counseling, with a focus on rehabilitation.

“Of course I have hard days,” she said. “But I try to focus on the fact that I am here. I get to live another day.” Not only is she living, she is actively making the world a better place for herself, and others facing similar challenges. Hannah works part time for the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, teaching others with vision loss to use technology in the world and workplace. She was recently recognized as the agency’s Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired Client of the Year.

Hannah says she still has a lot to learn, and she is wasting no time doing it. Shortly after she lost her sight, she took up baking. She made an inordinate amount of blueberry muffins, but now she can measure and make her way around the kitchen with great skill. Hannah is also learning braille, and has undergone extensive white cane training to help her safely navigate Edmond and beyond. Soon, she hopes to have the support of a service dog.

Hannah considers blindness a great teacher. She recalls a moment of vulnerability during her cancer treatment when she asked her mother what people would love about her when she lost her beautiful red hair.

“My mom started listing all these qualities she loved about me that had nothing to do with material things or how I look,” Hannah said. “Now it has really come full circle because now those qualities are all that matter to me, in myself and in other people.”

Whether empowering young women at an event, or connecting with a stranger at a local nail salon, Hannah says blindness is a gift. “I don’t care what brands someone is wearing. It doesn’t matter if they’re pretty or not,” she said. “I focus on what they say and do. And words matter a lot.”

Hannah has also found that her journey has opened doors to hearing other people’s stories, and she loves listening – a skill that will pay off in her future as a rehabilitation counselor.

“It’s always comforting for me to meet people who’ve been through what I’m going through,” Hannah said. “And my goal is to be that person for other people, to let them know that they are not alone, and they can overcome hard things.”

Hannah’s next goal is to walk across UCO’s graduation stage. As she continues to impact others with her story, it’s clear: she may be blind, but Hannah is a woman of vision.

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