Keep your faith’
Surviving breast cancer changes Fedette Johnson's outlook on life
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