Cancer survivor resilient, triumphant throughout ordeal
October 21, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - In observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October spotlights Fort Stewart federal employee Lucinda Johnson-Wallace.
She is a fulltime employee. She is a retired Army veteran. She is a mother of two sons. She is a wife. She has cancer.
Johnson-Wallace is no stranger to the Marne Division -- having been stationed at Fort Stewart while serving in the Army. She received the unfortunate diagnosis a couple years before retiring as a Soldier, whose military occupational specialty was in the field of personnel records.
"I told my doctors that there was a possibility of something going on with me," Johnson-Wallace shared. "They said it was nothing. When I went to my over-40 physical, the doctors said I had eight lumps. When they did a CAT scan, that's when they found out that it wasn't eight lumps. It was one massive lump."
In 2000, Johnson-Wallace was diagnosed with breast cancer. However, the news did not end there.
"Initially, just getting the word you have cancer is like a rock falling on you," she said. "In the midst of going through the treatments, diabetes showed up. Now, I also have this disease called keratoconus. It's when your eye turns into the shape of a football. There isn't anything that can cure it, except for every two to three months, I need to have my eyes checked because my eye sight changes. Without my contact lenses, I'm as blind as a bat."
After going through radiation and chemotherapy, Johnson-Wallace went into remission while attending Savannah State University for her undergraduate's degree. Until two and half years later, she received the news that the cancer came back. She underwent radiation treatments and chemotherapy for a second time, in which she went into remission. She earned her undergraduate degree then enrolled into South University to obtain her master's degree. She was cancer-free until four and a half years later when she was told that the cancer returned -- again.
"It came back again," she said. "Only this time it moved from my breast to my breast sternum and neck. It went to Stage Four. The doctors' said they didn't want to take any more chances -- that I had to undergo treatments for the rest of my life."
Despite being diagnosed with Stage Four cancer, Johnson-Wallace keeps a positive outlook on life. The love for her Family and her passion for sports are what keeps her going, she said.
"I'm a football mom at Snelson Golden Middle School, and I coach at [Liberty County Recreation Department] on the side," she added, sharing the things that keep her happy and on her feet. "I'm over the drill team at church. I'm a member of Zeta Phi Beta, so I help out with them and I help out with Relay for Life. During the summer, [my Family] and I get together and do after school block parties for the kids. It's a tribute to the kids just to say 'hey, you stayed in school and that's what counts.' I just try to stay busy."
Johnson-Wallace said that the more she stays active and busy, the more her mind stays busy. When she is not busy, that is when she begins to think about the cancer and her life, she said.
"Until you get that one word that you have cancer, everything flashes -- my sons, my husband -- that I'm not going to see them anymore," she said. "Even when they couldn't talk, when my sons were born, I tried to prepare them for the 'what if.' I started teaching them how to drive at two. I would say, if I get incapacitated, I want you to be able to take me from point A to point B. They thought I was silly."
In April 2008, Johnson-Wallace's heart stopped on the table during a routine appointment, she said. Two doctors were able to resuscitate her. She said it is hard thinking back on it.
Once an avid athlete, she says she picks and chooses the days when she feels able to play her favorite sports -- football and basketball.
"Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I would go outside and play with my sons every day," she said. "Now, whenever I play, I make myself the permanent quarterback."
She said that her husband, Larry Wallace, knows when she feels pain when playing 100 percent with the neighborhood children and her sons.
"He knows when I overdo it, I'm going to suffer," she shared. "But, like I tell him, this is what keeps me going. So, when I come in the house and suffer, it's a good suffer because I don't think about what I go through each day. I play ball to help me."
Her eldest son Jamahl Baker, 19, played football for Bradwell Institute. He sees what Johnson-Wallace experiences. He extends gratitude to his mother for what she does for him and the Family.
"For my high school team, she was there even when she had chemo Friday nights. For my little brother, she made snacks for his football game," Baker said. "Thanks mom for all you do and for everything you've helped me with - for being committed to making it to our football and basketball games and any events we had."
Cancer survivor Johnson-Wallace remains resilient and positive. She has one final message for the community.
"For those who have cancer, don't give up hope. Keep your faith in the man upstairs and don't give up," she concluded. "For those who don't have cancer, get checked. Your least little bit of pain, your least little bit of disturbance in your body may seem little, but the littlest thing can be a big thing. They say heart attacks are a silent killer, so can cancer be a silent killer. So, get regular checkups."