Meet Jim, one of our first volunteers
Jim Johnston was a volunteer in the first CanCare training class in March 2018. Jim’s journey through his cancer diagnosis and treatment was not one for the “faint of heart.” I recently had the opportunity to interview Jim. He doesn’t really think of himself as being extraordinary. But, when you hear his story, I think you’ll agree with me, that there’s not a better word to describe this man and the fight he waged against an incredibly formidable opponent.
Facts About Jim:
Jim grew up on James Island and has lived here his entire life. He has been married to Joanne for 40 years. They have 2 children and 2 grandchildren. Jim worked as a Territory Manager for a company marketing Caterpillar equipment to contractors in the Charleston area. He retired in 2017. He and his wife Joanne are members of Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church on Folly Beach, but also attend services at St. Andrews Anglican Church in Mt. Pleasant where Jim is very active in the Men’s Group.
Jim’s Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment:
Jim was 58 years old when he knew that something was wrong in May 2013. He noticed that his energy level was different. He was also having difficulty swallowing. He had a scope procedure that month and learned that he had Stage IIIB stomach AND esophageal cancer. For about 8 weeks prior to surgery, he went through a combination of chemo drips and daily chemo pills. The doctors then gave him a month between chemo and surgery to rest up and gain some strength. Jim’s surgery was on September 11, 2013.
Following his surgery, Jim experienced serious complications. He was not healing well and had major infections in his chest cavity and lungs. He was in the hospital for two months following surgery. After his release from the hospital, blood clots put him back in the hospital in ICU. Other complications occurred. His stent broke and the infection came back. He spent another four months in the hospital. His lungs were compromised from the infection and it took a year for that condition to improve. When I asked Jim how he felt these days, he told me that he would probably never be “quite normal” again, but that he was able to get up every day, exercise and in fact, had recently taken a trip to Germany, Switzerland and France.
Jim had to have additional surgery in March of this year to address some problems with earlier procedures. The doctors told him that they had not anticipated this situation because they had never had a patient with Jim’s diagnosis live as long as he has. (Interviewer’s note: You rock, Jim!!)
Jim’s Resources for Dealing with Cancer:
Jim attributes the 3 “F”’s for his survival: Faith, Family and Friends. He told me that he and Joanne never got angry about his diagnosis. Joanne was beside him all the way, spending most nights at the hospital with him. He said he thought one of the most difficult things for him was seeing how hard his condition was on his family. Families feel the frustration of helplessness while also feeling the need to act upbeat and brave when they are actually frightened of what lies ahead. Several times when he was so debilitated that he told God he was ready to let go, he believes that his friends “out prayed” him. While he was in the hospital, he talked about his faith and shared scriptures with the nurses and other medical personnel. He says he put God in front of everything and that, coupled with the love and support of his family and friends, helped him make it through.
Jim & CanCare:
A friend of Jim’s gave his name to Lynn Joye when she was in the process of bringing CanCare to Charleston. After going through his volunteer training, he has been matched with 5 or 6 cancer patients. He feels that cancer has blessed him with a real knowledge of the value of time. It has also enabled him to be there for others. He actually looks forward to answering the hard questions with a mix of reality and hope that is grounded in faith. I can’t help but think how lucky his matches are to know someone like him who has literally been through “the valley of the shadow of death” and come out on the other side as an absolute blessing to those around him. Jim represents what is best about CanCare. I felt fortunate to have heard his story and I hope he continues to surprise his doctors for many, many years to come