Cancer survivor plans for triathlon, concert
Two years ago, Linnea Johnston was watching TV with her arms crossed when she felt the lump.
“I thought I was too young to have breast cancer, but my husband (Rich Johnston) said, ‘It’s not supposed to feel like that.’ I would have blown it off, but he made me do something and saved my life.”
Now Johnston, 35, of Cedar Ridge, wants to do more. Saturday night she is putting on a punk rock concert and art show at The Center for the Arts to raise breast cancer awareness among young women. The show’s proceeds will partially go to the Young Survival Coalition, an on-line support group for breast cancer survivors under 40.
The other portion will go to the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital’s Barbara Schmidt Millar Memorial Fund, which benefits the hospital’s breast imaging center. The center does mammograms to detect breast cancer and they are free for those in need. Millar died of breast cancer several years ago.
Sunday, Johnston will participate in the annual Celebration of Life Women’s Triathlon for the Millar Fund, “to prove to myself I’m as strong as I was. It’s symbolic of being finished with the mastectomies and the chemotherapy.”
It has been a two-year ordeal for Johnston. After finding the lump, she went in for a mammogram, which did not detect anything. But a sonogram and a needle biopsy of the lump “came back suspicious,” Johnston said.
A lumpectomy was performed to take the lump out “and the cancer was the size of a pea,” Johnston said. Tissue around the lump was precancerous and she was faced with choices.
She decided to have both breasts removed, fearful that the cancer would return, “and then they built me new ones,” Johnston said. “I was more worried about losing my hair (from chemotherapy) than my boobs,” she said, shaking her long blond mane.
She also chose to have her ovaries removed because breast cancer is fed by estrogen. The fact she had already adopted a son made the move easier.
“I didn’t think it would happen to me,” Johnston said. “There’s no breast cancer in my family, I don’t do drugs, don’t smoke, don’t drink much and I work out.”
But one thing is not a mystery to Johnston.
“No woman should ever be told she’s too young to get breast cancer,” Johnston said. “It’s not your grandma’s disease.”
During her recovery, Johnston managed to keep her job as a rehabilitation specialist at Pride Industries, where she helps the disabled do assembly work.
“I’ve also tried to be physically active,” with workouts at Courthouse Athletic Club. Maintaining her sense of humor helped as well.
“You can’t be all down and depressed or it weakens your immune system,” Johnston said.
She also linked up with Team Survivor Sierra, a group of women who support cancer survivors through fitness and health education.
“They’re just really strong women,” Johnston said, “many of them friends of Barbara Millar.”
She also has become a member of Breaking Barriers, a cancer support group out of Sacramento that will honor her Sept. 2 at a Monarchs game.
Johnston fields phone calls for the group, gives tips and tells stories to women who have breast cancer. She may suggest what kind of bra to get after surgery and finds support services for them when they come home from the hospital.
Meanwhile, Johnston is getting ready for the triathlon, which she is not interested in winning. “I just want to finish,” the bike, swim and running endurance race. “I want to finish something related to cancer.”
– Breast Cancer Benefit punk rock and art show for all ages, 8 p.m. Saturday, The Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley.
– Tenth annual Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Women’s Triathlon, at the NID boat ramp in Cascade Shores. Festivities begin at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, race at 8:30 a.m.
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