Lenora Johnson
Lenora’s Journey With Breast Cancer

My name is Lenora Johnson. I grew up in the Big Cypress Swamp, thirteen miles south of Immokalee, Florida. I am the eldest of Payne and Maxine Washington’s children. On July 3, 1963, my family moved to Anniston, Alabama. It would be another five years, at the age of 26, before I would meet the love of my life. On July 3, 1968, Prentiss Johnson and I were married. Soon we will celebrate forty years as man and wife. Those years blessed us with three sons, three daughters-in-law, and three granddaughters.

Late Summer, 1999, found me on the side of a hill in Ohatchee, doing what I loved best, landscaping. On the 10th of September, I went for my routine mammogram. Little did I know that my life was about to become a nightmare. My mammogram showed branching from a calcified duct in my left breast. My OBGYN made an appointment with a surgeon, who performed a surgical biopsy. Dr. Smith told me that I would be getting the results from another physician in the surgical office and when I should expect the pathology report.

In a few days I called and learned over the phone that I had breast cancer. I felt as though the floor dissolved from under me. I had cancer! I called my good friend, Gudrun who came and stayed with me until Prentiss, a building contractor, could get home. I cannot thank my precious husband, my sons and daughter-in-laws, my sisters, and my sister-in-law enough for their loving care. Not only my family but my church family and the great friends who were always there when I needed them most. Every letter and card I received is now a treasure.

Mine was a two year journey. The first year was filled with several surgeries and four chemotherapy treatments, as well as saline implant reconstruction of my right breast and surgery to make my left breast symmetrical. The surgery was a disaster and on October 30, 2000, at UAB, I had TRAM reconstruction of both breasts.

My tumor was: infiltrating ductal carcinoma…hormone receptor negative….poorly differentiated. Because of the seriousness of my pathology and because sentinel node biopsy wasn’t yet done at Anniston’s RMC hospital, all my lymph nodes were removed. Within weeks of my surgery, my surgical arm began to swell. Lymph edema has been a battle for me, resulting in repeated bouts of bacterial infection. Because of my sensitivity to bacteria, I had to give up gardening. Lymph massage and faithfulness to wear a compression sleeve, has freed me from the debilitating symptoms of Lymph edema. However, I know that Lymph edema requires lifetime management.

In 1999, breast cancer patients, in Anniston, Alabama, had very little support, . As a result of my battle with cancer and the prompting of God, through so many different sources, I called Chaplain Wilson. In August of 2001, the first meeting of Steel Magnolias was held in a room, adjacent to Chaplain Wilson’s office. Steel Magnolias Breast Cancer Support Group, Inc., is now a network of dedicated women who have made the troubling journey with breast cancer.

Breast cancer has changed me. I am a much stronger person, as is almost every person who is blessed to survive a battle with cancer. In the beginning, our families want us to get back to being the person we were before our battle with cancer. Most of us try, but once a person has lost everything they consider beauty: breast, hair, sometimes fingernails, and that sense of wellbeing that we had before, and then emerge back into life, much like a butterfly from a cocoon, our families get to know the new and better person we’ve become. We now have a new norm, and this hurting world needs to hear our victorious stories!