Headand Neck Cancer Survivor Greg Johnston
CR Magazine: Collaberation – Results

By Alanna Kennedy


A survivor discovers the importance of family support while going through cancer treatment

By Alanna Kennedy

When Greg Johnston of Herndon, Va., was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in August 2007, his greatest concern wasn’t for himself. “I was really worried about my wife, my children and my grandchildren,” says the 51-year-old father of four. Not wanting to be a burden on his family, Johnston briefly considered going through treatments alone.

But he soon realized that he would not be able to make it through the difficult rounds of chemo and radiation without his faGreg Johnston with his familymily’s help. With his wife and children by his side, Johnston managed radiation burns and dramatic weight loss brought on by his treatment. “[My kids] sat with me when I was just watching TV. They asked me if I needed a bottle of water or anything to eat,” he says. Such simple acts of support helped him make it through the tough days. Along with the physical support he received, Johnston says, “I could feel the emotional and spiritual support that my family, friends and work family was giving me.”

In his blog post “Can’t Do It Alone,” Johnston talks about the importance of leaning on others during difficult times.

CAN'T DO IT ALONE                
Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I was watching a high school girls lacrosse game tonight, trying to watch as a fan but eventually falling into watching as a coach. Why? Because I have been coaching or mentoring coaches since I was 16 years old. ...

In watching the game tonight I saw players trying to force plays, play selfishly and play as if they were the only players on the field. They weren’t playing for the school or for their team to win. They were out there to show everyone how good they were. … taking the attitude of “I can do this all by myself, I’ll show everyone how much of a superstar I really am.” I’ve seen that attitude too many times as a coach and player. I’ve even done it a time or two myself. We all have, right?

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had a brief moment of thinking I can do this alone. I can do the treatments. Drive myself to the doctors. Sit with a needle in my arm or hand while they pump chemo into my body and be there by myself. I don’t want anyone to have to be there with me. I’m the one with cancer and I’m the one who is going to have to beat it. ... I’m tough. Don’t need anyone’s help. And then it hit me—what a stubborn, pigheaded asshole I am. ...

Cancer kicks your ass up and down the street. And then kicks it again just for laughs. It plays with your ego, beats up your resolve and twists your heart and soul in knots in an effort to win. Cancer plays to the death. It doesn’t play fair. But one thing cancer doesn’t count on is all the help you get. … My cancer didn’t know that I wasn’t going to give up. That I was going to be the toughest bastard ever. ... Cancer didn’t know that I had this amazing family. An amazing family at work. An amazing group of friends, new and lifelong. Cancer counted on me trying to do it alone.

No way was I going to try.

To read more of Johnston’s blog, Other Side of Cancer, please visit othersideofcancer.blogspot.com.

To recommend a blog for CR’s Cancerblog column, send an e-mail to Kennedy@CRmagazine.org.


(photo credit: Jim Sloane)