“Today I’m alive, and if I live in fear, and it never comes back, then what kind of a life did I live???” — Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson has dealt with two different lung cancers; blood clots which nearly killed her, and a devastating divorce.
She was first diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007; the second time, it was 2011 going into 2012. The good news: the second was not an extension of the first.
She had both upper lobes removed (“1 for each cancer,” she says, and hoots with laughter.”) Both cancers were enclosed in the lobe and removed with it each time. Chemo followed.
The prognosis was not good, and in 2012, doctors told her to get her life in order: Survival would not be a longterm thing.
Now, 10 years after her first diagnosis and having just celebrated the fifth anniversary of the end of her last treatment, Judy is proving them wrong.
“I’ve seen tons of people at Gilda’s still alive who ‘should have’ died 10 years ago… and I’m one of ‘em.
“Lung cancer is not a death sentence any more.”
She has developed inner strength amid the weakness, learned bad stuff happens to everyone, and that each of us can make choices that make the bad stuff better or worse:
“I’ve learned that difficulties are as difficult as I make them out to be.
“If I wanted to be fearful or angry or worried that cancer’s coming back again, I can choose that, but if I choose that, it’s not going to change the outcome of today.
“Today I’m alive, and if I live in fear, and it never comes back, then what kind of a life did I live??? “
The storm before the calm
Not that arriving in that calm place or staying there is easy…
“I spent a lot of time asking God ‘Who am I?’ I was so sad and grieved so deeply.”
She “didn’t want to be sad anymore, but it takes a ton of effort to change our thoughts … you have to figure out what’s going on in yourself.
Judy’s Christian faith is a keystone of her life, and she has translated biblical writings on gratitude into a life practice.
“I actually started keeping a gratitude journal in 2012; I’m on journal #12. It is awesome to go back and read those during those difficult times … even if it’s someone giving me half a smile in the grocery store.
“Negativity and negative thinking drag you down and wear you out.”
Gratitude brings joy and hope.
Cancer can erode the spirit if we let it.
The shocker, to me anyway, is we have the power to choose otherwise.
Judy has seen the gamut of reactions: those with cancer who turn bitter and angry, obsessing about how and why did this happen to me, “and they died bitter and angry.
“I saw others who wanted to deny anything was wrong, but you’ll make yourself nuts if you try to deny.
“Just look at it, be with it, take it for what it is and make your choices…
‘You only have 1 day …’
“One thing that is very key for me: you only have 1 day and that’s today; Yesterday ended last night when i went to sleep and it’s over and done; and tomorrow can’t ever be today.”
“Being in the moment is key to me having joy.”
Also key: a sense of humor, laughter … “seek it out.”
What would she advise others dealing with cancer?
“Draw on the strength of individuals who know and understand what you’re going through,” Judy said. “That can only come from those who’ve either been there, or are going through the same kinds of things you are now.”
“… the BEST place to get this is Gilda’s Club!”
“While we have the gift of life, it seems to me the only tragedy is to allow part of us to die – whether it is our spirit, our creativity or our glorious uniqueness.”
— Gilda Radner