Keep your faith’

Sur­viv­ing breast cancer changes Fedette John­son's out­look on life

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Front Page - Story by Lind­sey Wells, pho­tog­ra­phy by Mara Kuhn

You have just been di­ag­nosed with breast cancer and your en­tire world has been shaken. You're in shock. You don't know what to think or do. You're turn­ing your life over to a team of med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als and fear has taken over. Now what?

These were the thoughts go­ing through Fedette John­son's mind as she and her daugh­ter sat in a doc­tor's of­fice in 2015 as the doc­tor said those four words: “You have breast cancer.”

John­son was di­ag­nosed with in­va­sive duc­tal car­ci­noma on July 14, 2015, af­ter go­ing in for her yearly mam­mo­gram.

“My daugh­ter and I went in af­ter he got my re­sults back from the mam­mo­gram and ul­tra­sound and he told me that I did have cancer. He wanted to know when I wanted to do the surgery and I said, `I want you to get it out as soon as pos­si­ble. I don't want to wait, I don't want to think about it, so let's go ahead and get this over and done,'” John­son said.

She said her daugh­ter took the news hard.

“I told my daugh­ter, `Don't you start that cry­ing. I'm try­ing not to cry so don't you even go there.' I had to be strong so she wouldn't see that I'm a lit­tle ner­vous and ap­pre­hen­sive. I tried to stay pos­i­tive through­out the whole thing, I kept my faith, I prayed to God and I said, `It's in your hands, what­ever will be will be,'” John­son said.

“There's no breast cancer in my fam­ily at all and I'm think­ing to my­self, `Why did this have to hap­pen to me? Why me, why did I have to be the one to get it?' I just said, ` OK, there's noth­ing I can do about it, I've got it, so I'm just go­ing to pray and ask God to help keep me strong and let's go on and get this done and over with and what­ever has to hap­pen af­ter that will hap­pen.'”

A week af­ter her di­ag­no­sis, John­son had a lumpec­tomy per­formed on her left breast to re­move the cancer. She also tested pos­i­tive for the HER2 gene, which con­tains a pro­tein that pro­motes the growth of cancer cells. Be­cause of this pos­i­tive test re­sult, John­son un­der­went ra­di­a­tion and al­most a year of chemo­ther­apy af­ter her surgery.

Hair loss, nau­sea, and brit­tle nails were some of the side ef­fects of the chemo.

“I lost my hair. I got a lit­tle sick, but it was just kind of a queasy feel­ing. The doc­tor told me I would lose my hair in a cou­ple of weeks but I started los­ing it im­me­di­ately. That was kind of hard on me. When it started com­ing out I had my daugh­ter call her sis­ter-in­law, a beau­ti­cian, and I said, `OK, tell her to come on and just whack it off,' and she shaved it all off,” John­son said.

Even prior to her breast cancer di­ag­no­sis, John­son said she en­joyed wear­ing wigs on days that she didn't feel like do­ing her hair, so wear­ing wigs and head­scarves af­ter she lost her hair wasn't a big deal.

“I did wear a scarf oc­ca­sion­ally but a lot of times I didn't; I would just go nat­u­ral. Hey, I looked good with a bald head,” she said.

Be­cause a mam­mo­gram po­ten­tially saved her life, John­son urges women of all ages to get reg­u­lar breast cancer screen­ings.

Keep your faith, don’t worry about be­ing less than a woman, be­cause you’re not; you’re still that same woman you were be­fore that surgery.

“It is very im­por­tant to go and get your mam­mo­gram once a year, or how­ever of­ten the doc­tor tells you to do it. If you don't go and get it and you do have breast cancer, it may be too late. It may be a large, in­va­sive cancer, they may have a HER2-pos­i­tive gene like me, and it could spread. Do not hes­i­tate. When they say, `Come and get your mam­mo­gram done ev­ery year,' do that,” she said.

Though self breast ex­am­i­na­tions are also im­por­tant to do at home, John­son said they may not be enough to de­tect a cancer.

“Some­times you can't feel it your­self when you're do­ing your self checks. Even the doc­tor can't feel it some­times. When they did the ul­tra­sound, they saw it. It's very un­com­fort­able, but at least you'll know and you can rest as­sured that you don't have it this year, but that doesn't mean you won't get it next year. Please, please, please get it done ev­ery year,” she urged.

Prior to her di­ag­no­sis, John­son was a cer­ti­fied mas­tec­tomy fit­ter at New Im­ages Bou­tique in Hot Springs and had plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence con­sol­ing and ad­vis­ing women on their own di­ag­noses.

“They would come in and be so de­pressed and cry­ing and they felt like they weren't a woman any­more. I would talk to them and con­sole them and tell them, `You're no dif­fer­ent than you were be­fore the surgery, you just don't have breasts any­more. That doesn't make you any less a woman than you were be­fore.' Don't be afraid, don't cry about it. Lean on God and pray and keep your faith. If your faith is strong and you pray to God and you ask Him to help you, you're go­ing to pull through this,” she said.

“Have good fam­ily sup­port. That helps, too, and I had good sup­port from my fam­ily, es­pe­cially my daugh­ter be­cause she stayed with me af­ter I came out of surgery. She stayed with me about a week to help me be­cause I was still a lit­tle weak. Keep your faith, don't worry about be­ing less than a woman, be­cause you're not; you're still that same woman you were be­fore you had that surgery.”

John­son said sur­viv­ing breast cancer has changed her out­look on life in that she now lives each and ev­ery day to its fullest ex­tent.

“En­joy your life, love, for­give, and help peo­ple. Try to be happy, be­cause life is too short to sit there and worry. Don't worry about what's go­ing to hap­pen now or the next day be­cause you don't know. Don't sit up and worry about it; just try to live your life as best as you can and trust and be­lieve in God and smile and be happy,” she said.

“When I first found out, I told my daugh­ter, `Girl, don't cry, you know God has me, so don't even start cry­ing.' Af­ter that she just seemed to be OK with it. And I was good with it. There was noth­ing I could do about it; I couldn't just say `abra­cadabra' and make it go away,” she added, laugh­ing.

Now, John­son works part-time, goes to church, sings, and en­joys her fam­ily. She will be per­form­ing the with Clyde Pound Trio at the Ohio Club on Oct. 15.

“I'm go­ing to start get­ting out more. I had stopped go­ing out, pe­riod, not do­ing any­thing, be­cause there's re­ally nowhere to go,” she said.

At the time of this writ­ing, John­son was look­ing for­ward to a trip to Ari­zona to visit her old­est grand­daugh­ter and grand­chil­dren in cel­e­bra­tion of her 63rd birth­day.

Women of Re­silience

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