One woman’s amazing story of beating terminal cancer

(Last Updated On: December 18, 2013)

By Cynthia Nickerson, EM Health & Wellness contributor, owner of Positive Image

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Cynthia Nickerson, EM Health & Wellness Columnist

What would you do if you were told you had six months to live? Cry? Pray? Spend all of your money? That nightmare scenario happened to Rose Johnson of Fort Bend County. Doctors told her to get her affairs in order, because she didn’t have long to live. But Rose is still here, nearly 13 years after being given that death sentence. Rose recently spoke with Health Reporter Cynthia Nickerson about her experiences and what she is doing now, to help others avoid a similar terrifying ordeal.

Cynthia Nickerson

Describe what happened the day you realized you needed medical attention?

Rose Johnson

It was an ordinary day, I was getting ready for work. I saw something strange on my navel, it was actually something starting to protrude out of my navel. It scared me. I went to my primary care doctor. He had never seen anything like that before. He sent me to someone else. I ended up going to five doctors, none of them could give me any answers. Finally, a few weeks later, I went to a diagnostic center. They did some tests and told me I needed to get to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center as fast as I could.

Cynthia Nickerson

Were you experiencing any symptoms of any kind?

Rose Johnson

No, that is why this was such a surprise. I had no symptoms, not even pain. I did not have cancer in my family at all.

Cynthia Nickerson

So what did the doctors at M.D. Anderson say?

Rose Johnson

They were also surprised at this thing coming out of my navel. They had never seen anything like that. But they did a lot of tests. Finally, they told me that I had

Stage 4 terminal colon cancer. They told me it had metastasized to my liver, lungs and ovaries. And they said six months will be the basic time that I have to live. Of course I was devastated and my family was devastated. I was 60 years old!

Cynthia Nickerson

I see from all of this paperwork that you kept, that they did offer you chemotherapy and not just hospice.

Rose Johnson

Well, I think they were doing that to satisfy my family because they did tell me, we can start this chemo but we doubt you make it six months. But as it turned out, after three rounds of my chemo, the cancer tumor that was protruding out of my navel fell off one day in the shower. And the doctors were totally shocked! They called it a miracle. After that things just went so well. They didn’t understand how my body was functioning so well after all the chemotherapy.

Cynthia Nickerson

How long were you on chemotherapy?

Rose Johnson

For one year. I did suffer from nausea, weight loss, hair loss and my mental state wasn’t so good, I admit. I mean, how could it be? Every night I lay down, I wasn’t sure I would live to see another day. I told my family I will be okay either way. If I live, wonderful. If I don’t live, I know that I would be going home to be with the Lord. Still, it was an emotional rollercoaster.

Cynthia Nickerson

What happened after that year of chemo?

Rose Johnson

That was also another miracle! After a whole year of chemo and a lot of other tests, they couldn’t find the cancer in my body anymore. However, I did suffer from two re-occurences over the next few years. Cancer came back first in one lung and I had surgery, then cancer came back in my chest wall and I had chemo and radiation. I fought cancer for a total of 8 years. But I have been cancer free now for four years. When you are diagnosed with stage 4, you generally don’t make it. But I am here today because there is a purpose for me. The purpose is to tell people that colon cancer is not a death sentence. If you just get screened.

Cynthia Nickerson

Were you screened Rose?

Rose Johnson

Yes, at age 50 I had gotten screened with a colonoscopy. Everything was fine but I didn’t return. That was my mistake. It is so important that you do return, if the doctor says come back, come back in a year, go back because polyps do grow. That is what happened to me, I didn’t go back and in that 10 year period between my colonoscopy and my cancer diagnosis, I developed polyps which turned into advanced cancer. When I finished my chemo that first time, I felt like it was my duty to go back to be a volunteer. I had no one to talk to when I first went through this, no one who told me its going to be OK. But I made it through. So I go back (to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center) and volunteer to let people know, cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Think positive. Don’t think you are going to die and just give up.

Cynthia Nickerson

What is life like for you now?

Rose Johnson

Life is so wonderful now. I am so excited. Thanks to God, I’ve met so many people in the last year that have helped me achieve my goal and that is to form a foundation. It’s called the RB Johnson Foundation and the mission is to let others know this cancer can be avoided if you just get screened.

Cynthia Nickerson

What will the RB Johnson Foundation do?

Rose Johnson

We have a lot of activities and programs planned in the next year in Fort Bend County and in Houston, to educate people about colon cancer screening. Right now, I talk to people anywhere and everywhere. I am standing in line at the grocery store or the movies and I turn around and ask a person, are you aware of colon cancer? Have you been screened? I get a lot of strange looks but many times the person will start asking me questions and I am happy to answer. I want people to join with me and lets break the silence. Get screened to save your life.

The oncologist who treated Rose Johnson initially has moved to another cancer center but continues to follow Rose’s progress and asks that her case serve as a research study.

Rose Johnson’s Foundation slogan is “A Rose of Help-Giving a Ray of Hope.” She says she will go anywhere to speak about this issue. She can be reached through her website: www.rbjohnsonfoundation.com.

About Cynthia Nickerson

Cynthia Nickerson is an award winning  anchor/reporter who has worked for TV stations in Baton Rouge, West Palm Beach, Florida and Norfolk, Virginia. She has a degree in broadcast journalism from USC and is co-owner of Positive Image, a Houston-based video and multi-media production company that produces health education media projects and outreach programs and fulfills its non profit mission of educational programming to
diverse communities. She also covers  health/wellness issues on Wellnicity Radio show, which airs Monday through Friday on mjwjtalkradio.com from 9-11 CST. For more information, contact her via  cnickerson@mjwjtalkradio.com or visit http://positiveimage-tv.com/.

One woman’s amazing story of beating terminal cancer