Editor’s note: In honor of October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, last week The Fremont Tribune published a week-long series, “Think pink,” sharing the stories of community members who battled or are currently battling breast cancer. Read previously published stories on fremonttribune.com.
Brandee Johnson is just starting her journey.
Earlier this month, the Oakland woman was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Now, she’ll be looking at what treatment options are available as she and her doctors get more test results.
In the meantime, she appreciates people who’ve offered support.
“I didn’t have any symptoms,” said Johnson, whose cancer was detected during an annual mammogram in September at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in West Point.
After the mammogram, Johnson’s doctor called her back for an ultrasound and biopsy.
Johnson, who is 43, said she learned on Oct. 3 she has invasive ductal carcinoma.
She was put in touch with a medical team at an Omaha hospital and is working with them to tailor a specific treatment based on data from tests.
Johnson planned to go today to discuss surgical options and an MRI she recently had and to go over a Breast 9 genetic test and an OncoDX test.
“The genetic test, to my understanding, is to find out whether or not I have any other markers in my genes that could predict possibly a mutation further on in my lifetime, where they would need to take more consideration as far as the pancreas or colon — if I needed to keep an eye on that going forward,” she said.
Johnson’s genetic tests came back negative, which she said is a good thing.
“What they’re telling me is that they don’t know why cancer showed up; It’s kind of a fluke,” she said.
An aunt of Johnson’s had breast cancer.
But no one else on the maternal side of her family had breast cancer. No one on the paternal side had it.
As for the OncoDX test, the website called, breastcancer.org, states that it helps doctors determine how likely a woman is to benefit from chemotherapy and the risk of early-stage cancer recurring.
Johnson and her team will discuss surgical choices such as a lumpectomy or full mastectomy.
“They also — at the time of surgery — will biopsy the first lymph node, which is called the sentinel node, to see if the cancer has metastasized,” she said. “If it has, then I have to do the standard protocol of chemotherapy and radiation.”
If it hasn’t, Johnson said there’s a good chance she will only need to have radiation.
Johnson said it’s difficult to describe the feelings she’s had.
“I’m not a person who dwells on a lot of stuff,” she said. “I don’t go on the Internet and search out outcomes — and all the things that would possibly lead you down a road you don’t want to go down.”
She maintains a positive outlook.
“It’s just another thing I have to do. It’s not something I see as far as breaking me and putting me down in a dark hole. I’m still me. I just have these cells that are cancerous that are in my breast that I have to take care of,” she said.
Johnson appreciates the number of people who’ve reached out and said they’re willing to help in any way.
And that she has a support system and is able to ask and accept help.
“I talked with a survivor here in Oakland, who said she went through her first two bouts with cancer and didn’t want anyone to know. And she said that was the worst thing she could have done. When she finally accepted help, it made it so much better,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who has a 13-year-old, mixed-breed dog, Lakota, said she enjoys seeing and trying new things.
She hopes to return to her job soon.
Johnson works for the Omaha-based Aureus Medical Group as a physical therapist assistant. Licensed in five states, she travels under 13-week contracts to areas that need help.
Oftentimes, she ends up extending her time in those places.
“And I meet and make really good friendships,” she said.
Thus far, she’s worked in Minnesota, New Mexico and Washington on travel assignments.
“I have a job that I love,” she said, noting that she enjoys helping people.
Her job also allows her to travel and see new areas.
“My hope is to get back to my job,” she said. “Right now, I’m not able to work, because no one’s going to contract me while I’m going through all of my treatment.”
Johnson doesn’t know if she’ll have chemotherapy. She’s been told the radiation will take four weeks and a day. Then there will be recovery time.
“I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back and that’s a scary thing when the bills start coming in,” she said.
She received funds raised when the Faith Ambassadors Lutheran Parish Hospitality Task Force hosted a Pink Out Cancer Awareness event earlier this month.
Johnson also has a GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/c4guw7-team-brandee on which she states: “I will be forever grateful to anybody who is willing to help me at this time as monthly insurance premiums, travel expenses, food and utilities don’t stop just because of this situation.”
The local woman knows the importance of laughter and staying positive.
“I think anytime something like this happens, the good that comes out of it is re-showing you how many people are there for you,” she said. “I think we get lost in our jobs and our world and the areas we hold around us and we forget sometimes the multitude of people we’ve met throughout our lives who still are there and reach out to you.”
She notes the importance of something else:
“To just be thankful that every day you wake up.”