Stacy Johnson is a breast cancer survivor

Published 12:10 am Sunday, October 23, 2011

FortyERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Forty-two-year-old Stacy Johnson, a Natchez resident, was diagnosed with breast cancer in December. She has undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and a right breast mastectomy. Johnson is now cancer-free and her hair is starting to grow back.

NATCHEZ — Stacy Johnson’s doctor didn’t have to say it — just the look in his eyes told her that she had breast cancer.

It all happened quickly for the 42-year-old Natchez native. A lump discovered in December led to a mammogram, then a biopsy and lumpectomy, and finally a right breast mastectomy in February.

In less than a year, Johnson has gone from a stage-2 cancer patient to being cancer free, and now she wakes up every day a survivor — minus some eyelashes and plus one wig.

ERIC SHELTON THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Breast cancer survivor Stacy Johnson hugs and kisses her 5-year-old son, Dylan.

In addition to being a high-spirited mom, a daughter and a friend, Johnson has relied on her faith to cope.

“I have a good support system of family and friends,” Johnson said. “If not for them, and the grace of God, I wouldn’t be here.”

But, Johnson said, she has her low moments too.

“I have pity parties, but they don’t last long,” Johnson said. “I have my moments.

“But I pray a lot, and I have a sponsor, like an alcoholic does,” she said, laughing.

Johnson said her sponsor, also a cancer survivor, calls, checks on Johnson and offers moral support.

“She tells me what to expect,” Johnson said. “She says, ‘Whatever mood you’re in — go with it, even if you feel sad or angry.’ She was a big help.”

Johnson said prior to the diagnosis, she knew something was off. The usually energetic single mom said she felt tired all the time. After the diagnosis, life-saving chemotherapy treatments left her feeling downright lousy.

“It really takes a toll on the body,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of physical and emotional changes. I was sick. And it zaps your energy level. But I’m just glad to be here.”

Johnson said it surprised her when hair pulled loose from her head in handfuls, but she is thrilled now to see it reemerge from her scalp, and her eyebrows filling in.

She said this time last year, the pink ribbons that are so ubiquitous in bringing breast cancer awareness to communities didn’t have the same meaning.

Other changes have come as well.

“I don’t take a lot for granted,” Johnson said. “I value the little things, the little moments.”

She also had to readjust her lifestyle.

“I had to change my diet,” Johnson said. “I eat green, leafy vegetables and drink a lot more water. And I quit smoking, which was hard to do.”

Johnson, the first in her immediately family to have breast cancer, would like other breast cancer patients and survivors to know something that she had to come to terms with herself — no one “earns” breast cancer.

“I had to realize that there was nothing I did to cause it,” Johnson said. “It was a wake-up call for me. I had never been sick and very seldom caught a cold.”

Because breast cancer feeds off female hormones, Johnson was prescribed a hormone blocker, which kicked her into early menopause.

“Hot flashes, mood swings, the whole thing,” Johnson said.

Johnson said her son, Dylan is probably her biggest inspiration.

“He’s a trooper,” Johnson said. “And he’s very concerned about mommy. He says, ‘Your hair will grow back soon, so put your wig on,’ and, ‘Tell the doctor not to do that to your chest anymore.’”

Johnson is a student at Alcorn State University, majoring in elementary education. She said the chemotherapy treatments, and the sickness that follows, caused her to miss classes, but her professors have been understanding and helpful.

Johnson said she also has a church family that intercedes for her. Members of Zion Chapel AME Church in Natchez, where Johnson is a member, offer assistance and keeps her in prayer.

Johnson said she is keeping her goals simple for the time being.

“I gained about 15 to 20 pounds (in treatment),” Johnson said. “I plan on losing that. Then breast reconstruction after everything is over with.”

Johnson said the best prevention of breast cancer is in early detection, but also information, which is why she doesn’t hesitate sharing the story of her journey.

“There are so many people diagnosed that you would never expect,” Johnson said. “Young and old, men and women.”

Though this year has been one marked by shock, pain, sickness and big changes, Johnson said she is proud to tack “survivor” on her life’s accomplishments. Losing hair, eyelashes, a breast — the things society tells us are decidedly feminine, she has entered a new, wiser phase of womanhood.

“I am truly blessed,” Johnson said.