SURVIVORS SPEAK: “I knew that breast cancer wasn’t a death sentence”

Breast Cancer Awareness

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) Nearly a quarter of a million people will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. That is about one in eight women.

Doctors resoundingly say that early detection saves lives, and it certainly helped Amy Johnson defeat breast cancer and start sharing her unique story.

“We all see the campaigns that go on out there and it feels like an easy, nice reminder. But until it hits close to home sometimes we still don’t pay attention to it,” says Johnson on why many women put the disease at the back of their minds.

Johnson’s journey with breast cancer, started long before her own. Her mother was diagnosed at 34 years old. Not long after, Johnson received surprising news.

“I actually found my very first lump when I was 19 years old. Had it not been for that, I don’t think I would have been as on top of it as I was,” says Johnson.

Johnson’s tumor was benign and she started yearly mammograms at 19. Then at 37, came a new twist. Doctors discovered she had the gene mutation PALB2, which puts you at an elevated risk for developing breast cancer.

“At that point was when I knew that cancer was going to be in my future,” Johnson remembers. “I don’t think I was ever living in fear, it was more of I knew it was going to happen. It was one of those things that felt inevitable and I had to plan my life around it than anything that I was really fearful of,” says Johnson.

Two years later came the diagnosis she had been dreading. At 39 years old a new lump was discovered during a routine gynecological breast exam. A biopsy found it to be lobular cancer.

Fortunately for Johnson, and thanks to early detection, it was slow growing and stage one.

“I knew that breast cancer wasn’t a death sentence. It was something I was just gonna have to deal with and move on,” she says. “I was 39 at the time I was diagnosed with BC and you’re not even allowed to get mammograms until you’re 40 by normal standards of insurance care.”

Johnson says that is an important distinction, she was diagnosed before stand insurance would cover routine mammograms. Had she not had family history and a personal scare with the cancer at a young age, she would not have been covered for the mammogram that found her cancer.

“Of the women that I know who have found their breast cancer diagnosed at stage three or stage four, they are younger. And it wasn’t on their radar to even be looking,” she says.

That’s why Johnson started sharing her story. She became an advocate, working with the American Cancer Society and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.

“It’s an odd kind of sisterhood. You immediately form a bond with other women who are survivors once you share your story and it’s just great to have people out there. We have all gone through different variations of treatment to get out the other side, but just the support is overwhelming,” Johnson says.

She hopes anyone currently undergoing treatment will be encouraged to know there is life on the other side; she wants women who do not have breast cancer on their radar to pay attention.

Genetic testing revealed she was at higher risk for cancer and she says a lot of women could benefit from knowing where they stand.

She says all women should make sure to start their mammograms by age 40.

After having a double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery, she is now cancer free.

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