Colon Cancer Survivor: ‘Don’t Put Off Cancer Testing’

I've told all my siblings and all my friends to get their mammograms and colonoscopies, and not to put it off. If I can get one more person to get that test they need, I'm saving a life.

Jane Johnson
photo of Jane Johnson

Colon cancer survivor Jane Johnson, 55, is the Grand Marshall of her local Relay For Life event in Clatsop County, Oregon, one of thousands around the world that raise money to invest in cancer research and to provide information and services to cancer patients and caregivers. She’s passionate about helping other survivors.

“I’m doing something to help other people with cancer, to help get rides to people for treatment, to give them places to stay when they’re coming for treatment from out of town. I feel like I’m a part of all the cancer research and working for legislation that helps people with cancer. I’m giving back,” said Johnson.

Last year, Johnson worked a second job so she could donate the money she earned to her team. She’s also holding a yard sale and auctioning off her own home-made crocheted toys to reach her fundraising goal of $1,500. She’s doing all this while continuing to undergo chemotherapy and prepare for colon and liver surgery.

“When I walk in Relay, I’m saving someone’s life,” said Johnson. “I’ve told all my siblings and all my friends to get their mammograms and colonoscopies, and not to put it off. It’s so easy to say you’ll do it later. If I can get one more person to get that colonoscopy or that test they need, I’m saving a life. Had I had my colonoscopy when my doctor first suggested it, it would be a different ballgame now.”

Johnson says she put off getting a colonoscopy for years, even after she noticed blood in her stool, and even though her doctor advised it. Although she had been a caregiver for her brother and helped her mother after they were diagnosed with cancer, she never thought it would happen to her. It wasn’t until a new doctor frankly told her she was putting her life at risk by procrastinating, that she scheduled the test.

‘I called the American Cancer Society’

Johnson had her colonoscopy in September 2015. When she woke up from the anesthesia, her husband told her through tears that she had colon cancer. The first thing she did after she got home, was call the American Cancer Society’s toll-free number: 1-800-227-2345.

Johnson spoke to a Cancer Information Specialist, who gave her questions to ask her doctor, mailed her information about colon cancer treatments, and sent her a Personal Health Manager kit to help her organize and keep track of medical appointments, contact information, prescriptions, test results, and other paperwork. When she next saw the doctor, Johnson says she felt prepared for the visit. Unfortunately, she was not prepared for the news he gave her.

The doctor told Johnson she had stage IV colon cancer. It had spread to her lung and her liver. She would need chemotherapy to try to shrink the tumors, and then surgeries to remove the tumors from her lung, liver and colon.

So far, the treatment has not been easy. Side effects from chemotherapy included hair loss, difficulty eating, diarrhea, low potassium levels, and low white and red blood cell counts. She wound up in the hospital for a week to receive blood transfusions and had to end chemo treatment early. Luckily, by then Johnson’s tumors had shrunk and she was able to have surgery to remove the portion of her lung that contained the tumor. She’s now back on chemotherapy and scheduled to have surgeries on her liver and colon in the next few months. This time around, she has had few side effects from the chemo.

‘It’s OK to ask for help’

Johnson says her cancer treatment has been particularly difficult for her husband: “We’ve been married 18 years and we’ve had our ups and downs. He’s this big, strong guy, always working on cars, but he struggled with my diagnosis. He would look at me and burst into tears. I think it was harder on him than it was on me. Being aware of your family and how to relate to them is really important. I told him that I was strong, but I couldn’t be comforting him all the time.”

She says she’s doing her best to stay positive and take care of herself emotionally, while also being practical about making plans to help her family cope in the event that she doesn’t survive her cancer. “You hope for the best, but you plan for the worst,” said Johnson.

“You go through a lot – you go through depression, but it’s OK to know that you don’t have to be rock solid and it’s OK to ask for help, whether you call American Cancer Society, which I do, or go to counseling, which I’ve been doing as well. Look for those resources; they’re out there.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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