Feathered Memoirs of Local Cancer Survivors

My travels with C… and a clinical trial that saved my life – by Pam Johnson

Tucked away in the Palma Ceia subdivision of Keizer, Pam and John Johnson’s home doesn’t stand out. The tan-colored multi-level home, while cute, is just one of a dozen other similar homes on the block.

But hidden behind the suburban home is the Johnsons’ own private beach. The grass has been replaced by sand, the bricks by conch shells and, although it is not the Pacific Ocean, there is even a small plastic swimming pool for their daughter’s dog.

“My husband and I at some of our worst times, when I had both of my breasts cut off, when I found out I had leukemia, when I had Merkel cell carcinoma and I didn’t know if I was going to be there next month to see my grandkids, where did we go? The beach. It’s my solitude. It’s my sanctuary,” said Pam Johnson, who has lived in Keizer for 68 years.

Johnson’s life with cancer, which spans more than two decades, is described in her recent self-published memoir, My Travels with Big C. . . and a clinical trial that changed my life.

The book focuses on Johnson’s decision to enter a risky six-month clinical trial for chronic lymphocytic leukemia instead of choosing the standard treatment in hopes of increasing his chances of survival.

“As soon as I found out I had breast cancer or leukaemia, the first person I wanted to talk to was someone who had the same thing as me. So I thought if I could publish a book, maybe people could learn from my experience,” Johnson said. “Maybe they can find some hope, not be so scared because someone else has been through what they went through.”

Johnson had her first health scare in 1997 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and, as a result, underwent a double mastectomy.

After his recovery, Johnson began teaching at South Salem High School and was cancer-free for over a decade. Then, on a Wednesday afternoon in July 2009, Johnson went for a regular blood test. The test revealed that his white blood cell count was more than twice the maximum standard count. A doctor’s visit a few days later revealed that Johnson had chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

“I thought I had paid my cancer bills when my beautiful breasts were cut off, then when my white blood cells turned on me, and especially when a very rare and very aggressive skin cancer nearly killed me. But it didn’t there’s often no final payout when it comes to cancer,” Johnson said.

Johnson was able to avoid treatment until April 2014, when her white blood cell count was 15 times higher than normal, her spleen was double its normal size and tennis, her favorite activity she once did daily, is become too dangerous.

Treatment was to begin, and an oncologist introduced her to the idea of ​​participating in an ongoing clinical trial at Oregon Science and Health University.

“When I started the lawsuit, I did it for selfish reasons. I wanted to live longer and I didn’t want to leave my husband without a wife, my daughter without a mother and my grandchildren without a grandmother. over time however the trial took on even more meaning I realized that traveling through an unproven treatment had the chance to help hundreds, thousands and maybe even millions of people and write to this topic could help allay fears of the unknown,” Johnson said.

It’s been nearly 13 years since Johnson was first diagnosed with leukemia and eight years since she started the clinical trial. The trial was a success and Johnson is now in his seventh year of remission.

With check-ups every six months, Johnson said she knew all too well that each time her blood was drawn she knew the results might show the cancer coming back.

“When a health crisis hits, you really start to learn what’s most important in life and how you want to spend the time that’s given to you. I feel more alive after thinking I was going to die,” Johnson said.

Additional information about Johnson’s book can be found on his website pcpillette-johnson.com. The book can be ordered directly from its website or at the following local bookstores: Reader’s Guide in West Salem, Escape Fiction in South Salem, Second Chance Books in Independence, and Books N Time in Silverton.