The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is coming up and CBS 2 and KCAL 9 are proud sponsors of the yearly fund raising event. It puts a direct spotlight on breast cancer and the lives it touches.
CBS2’s Lisa Sigell sat down with Jerri Johnson, chairperson of the Race for the Cure event in Los Angeles County, to hear the story of her fight against a potentially deadly form of cancer. The following is Lisa’s interview.
Lisa Sigell: “How do you get to be chairperson?”
Jerri Johnson: “Through the years I was a consultant for most of my career and so managing projects, designing work, galvanizing a team together to meet a goal is what I’ve done professionally.”
Lisa Sigell: “So tell me your story; who are you blessed with?”
Jerri Johnson: “A tremendous part of my story is family support through all this. So my story is how breast cancer is not a singular disease. I think when we talk about survivors, there is a lot of focus on in the individual survivor, but there is a notion of co-survivor and what an important role that is.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 33 years of age. My diagnoses was stage-four — a very aggressive form of breast cancer.
“My family was an important part. My husband and I went through 26 months of treatment and recovery. They (Johnson’s family) were a tremendous support structure through all of this.”
Lisa Sigell: “When you think of your husband and your parents, how does that make you feel?”
Jerri Johnson: “I’m so grateful for their tireless support. Every step of the way I never felt abandoned, I never felt like I was by myself or alone.”
Lisa Sigell: “Do you have kids?”
Jerri Johnson: “I was actually pregnant at the time I was diagnosed. That’s why there were some challenges.”
Johnson’s baby did not make it during chemotherapy.
Lisa Sigell: “So let’s start with your story?”
Jerri Johnson: “I was 33 years of age, happy, very content, newly married; I was a partner with E&Y. All was right with the world until I noticed a few changes in my breast.
“Three weeks in, OBGYN said this isn’t right. No one could figure out what it was. One of the challenges with inflammatory breast cancer is… it doesn’t tumorize, so there was nothing to see.
“So finally I went to a breast specialist and he made a comment right at the beginning of the discussion, said there is a type of cancer that looks like this and it’s something we need to follow up and follow up quickly. So he did nine core biopsy tests and all nine of them came back positive.”
Lisa Sigell: “I want to make sure about the timing, give me the time line and then when came the diagnoses of inflammatory breast cancer?”
Jerri Johnson: “Newly married, we’ve been married 18 months, in March of that year… this is in 2001, in March of that year we went to Italy on vacation, just before that, I found out I was pregnant, which was very exciting. Then I had my first doctor visit end of April.”
Lisa Sigell: “So you were 33-years old, you’ve been married 18 months, you find out you’re pregnant, you go to Italy, come back and start to notice some symptoms and changes in you breasts. You go to the OBGYN and six week later you’re diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. You’re at stage-four breast cancer. When you heard that diagnoses what did you think?
Jerri Johnson: “We were in the oncologist’s office and she presented my husband and me with the diagnosis and I didn’t hear anything else. I started chemo the next day that’s how aggressive we wanted to be with this. My husband and I, neither one of us remember anything about that except hearing those words.”
Lisa Sigell: “And what words were those?”
Jerri Johnson: “That ‘you have breast cancer.'”
Lisa Sigell: “But she didn’t tell you that the chance for survival was extremely low for this type?”
Jerri Johnson: “She said at this point in time there are no survival stats for this type of breast cancer.”
Lisa Sigell: “How did you feel?”
Jerri Johnson: “It was shock.”
Lisa Sigell: “So you are ten years out now?”
Jerri Johnson: “Just ten years out! Yes!”
Lisa Sigell: “So you are ten years out now; that is a pretty big marker. What does ten years mean?”
Jerri Johnson: “Ten years, according to my oncologist, means I don’t have to be scanned every year (laughing).”
Jerri Johnson: “One of the most… hardest things in handling post treatment is that whole anxiety… ‘I’m going to get sick again, I’m going to have to go through this again.’ That anxiety is so stressful.”
Johnson decided to give back after learning that her doctor used an aggressive treatment method based on research funded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure, specifically used for IBC patients.
Jerri Johnson: “That chemotherapy stopped that cancer from spreading, so it really stopped it in its tracks and that was a key factor for saving my life.”
“Towards the end of treatment, you start to question, ‘what just happened, what did I just go through?’ On the chemotherapy side there was some research funded by Susan G. Komen, specifically on inflammatory breast cancer and similarity to other aggressive cancers…”
Breast cancer survivor Jerri Johnson will be walking for the 8th year for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
“It is an opportunity to celebrate those who did survive, those who didn’t. One of the reasons I’m compelled to do this — Someone walked for me before I ever even knew I needed it,” Johnson said. “I am passionate about this. You look at a group that has accomplished in the world we live in and you can help but think the best about humankind, our ability to take something as massive as breast cancer and defeat it, it makes you believe that it is truly possible.”
The Los Angeles County Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is Sunday, March 6, at Dodger Stadium. It’s a 5K run/walk. Seventy-five percent of the proceeds stay right here in L.A. County to fund programs and treatments for breast cancer patients.
For more information visit Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure.