Author, survivor tells how to support cancer patients

PEORIA HEIGHTS — Sarah K. Johnson hadn’t been at Peoria Notre Dame High School for very long before she found out her life was going to change forever — and not in all the usual ways high school does that.

What put Johnson’s life on a radically different course was Philadelphia Positive Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. While the more common form, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, had a survival rate of 80 percent in 2000 and is about 94 percent now, Johnson was facing a survival rate of 30 percent.

Survive she did.

Now 27, Johnson has been in remission for eight years, and she used the tough lessons she learned during her illness to help others by writing a book, “Oops! Did I Say That?” The subtitle is “A Guide to Positive Support for Cancer Patients.”

What makes the book different, Johnson said, is that it is not written in a narrative style. She decided to use her university’s publishing house so that it wouldn’t be a learning experience for her alone but for everyone involved.

The initial press run was 1,000 copies and by the middle of June Johnson had already sold 250 books. Helping her get there were her friends at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights, where she has been a lifelong member. The weekend of June 6-7 she sold and signed books after every Mass.

A graduate of the school, she returned last fall as a soccer coach for the third and fourth grade girls. Giving her added joy is being able to play recreational soccer after being told she could never play again due to the damage to her bones and ankles from chemotherapy.

She said she prayed with her mother constantly during treatment and continues to be surrounded by angels and images of her “go to” saints — St. Jude and St. Anthony — at the family’s home in Peoria Heights.

The patron saint of what is lost, St. Anthony of Padua, is a favorite before check-ups. “I pray that he will find healthy cells,” Johnson said with a laugh.

Editor’s note: “Oops! Did I Say That?” is available for $12 plus a shipping charge of $2.50 by visiting www.bronzemanbooks.com/oops! It is also being carried on www.amazon.com.

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