UNTOLD: Meet Colleen Johnson – endometrial cancer survivor, activist, marathon runner and…chicken farmer. Yep, chicken farmer. Colleen’s story is unique – and it is our first UNTOLD Feature Story. Be sure to check out the amazing follow-up to this already incredible story. It’s certainly worth a read.
Why did the chicken run across the road? This chick ran across the road to outrun her cancer. Seriously.
My story began at age 30 with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. At 48, it was high blood pressure.
At 53, type 2 diabetes. But at 57, Endometrial Cancer?
When my doctor told me that, I HAD to ask: “What the cluck is endometrial cancer?” Turns out, it’s NOT a rare cancer. It’s the 4th most common cancer among women. Yet, outside of people who work in health care, and those whose lives have been touched by it – few have heard of it.
Endometrial cancer has an undeserved reputation as a “good cancer.” It is undeserved because – although 3 out of 4 will be cured, almost eleven thousand will die this year alone.
I should be one of them.
My tumor was the size of a cantaloupe, and weighed 2 pounds. It was unusually aggressive and deeply invasive. I was given only 20% chance of surviving 5 years. This had me scrambling for ways to fight my cancer. Research suggests eating healthy, vigorous exercise, and losing weight can help. I was obese. The only exercise I got was running away from exercise. But I wanted to live. So I cut calories and lost 100 pounds. I left the couch, and ran off to the races. Literally.
Eleven months after diagnosis, I ran my first 5K. Five months later … my first marathon. I’ve run 17 marathons since then. My longest race? 100 miles! For now. I lost weight, lowered my blood pressure, reversed my type 2 diabetes.
This October, I will be 5 years cancer-free. I made lifestyle changes for myself. But others saw what I was doing. One by one – independent of one another – people began thinking “If she can do it, so can I.” Friends and total strangers told me how I’d inspired them to make changes in their own lives.
New opportunities arrived. I am privileged to coach beginning runners with Women Run/Walk Memphis program. Several hundred ladies a year – many with chronic health problems – turn into successful 5K’ers. For many, this is their first step to better health and fitness.
Through Friend for Life in Kentucky, I’ve been privileged to walk one-on-one with women battling endometrial cancer. Sadly, one of my ladies recently died.
I raise a small flock of chickens. I watch over them like a mother hen. If I were to see greater than 50% increase in the number of hens dying in my hen house, I’d be screaming from the rafters!
But that’s what’s happening with endometrial cancer. Both the number of women diagnosed – AND the number of women dying – are SKYROCKETING ! The number of women diagnosed has almost DOUBLED in the last 15 years. 60,000 ladies will be diagnosed this year. And at a time when most cancers are killing fewer people, there was a huge 56% increase in the number of ladies dying of endometrial cancer since 2000!
I can’t cut the number of ladies being diagnosed. Or reduce the number of deaths. But I have a sexy pair of peach running shoes. Peach is the color of endometrial cancer – and I’m willing to wear those things out, to bring attention to the problem.
September is Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month. Labor Day weekend, I will run in Manchester, Tennessee at the annual Race for the Ages. I’ll run 105 miles – the distance of 4 marathons!The track is a one-mile loop through Deadman Park. (That really is the name of the park.) And, I’m sure I’ll FEEL like the walking dead by mile #105 !
But no matter how I feel, the Forgotten Ladies with endometrial cancer are worth my struggle.
Encourage others to wear peach. And, I’m asking you to break the silence. TALK about endometrial cancer. Do you know its warning signs? Do your sisters, mothers, daughters, friends?
There are no educational campaigns to teach women the warning signs of endometrial cancer.
This is my next marathon – getting basic information out to the public. And getting treatment guideline booklets to newly diagnosed ladies. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network can produce the booklets, but we will need to raise the funds to get them printed.
I’m Colleen Johnson, wife, chicken farmer, marathon runner, endometrial cancer survivor.
FOLLOW-UP: We received an email from Colleen this past week. Earlier in her story, she spoke of the need to raise $60K to achieve the goal having Patient Guidelines created. As we go to print, over $120K has now been raised and thanks to Colleen’s efforts, women fighting endometrial cancer will receive the packets they so desperately need.