Thriving through two pandemics

Kenya Johnson talks about keeping up her spirits and her health through breast cancer treatment and COVID-19

Kenya Johnson with friends and family on her last day of chemo at Texas Oncology

Pictured above: Kenya (center, holding bouquet) with family and friends on her last day of chemotherapy at Texas Oncology

Kenya Johnson has an irrepressible quality about her. She completed chemotherapy for breast cancer only three weeks ago, and is prepping for surgery on April 13, and her voice and her eyes are still as bright as ever. As a former Komen board member and current Special Projects Manager at Texas’ Department of Family and Protective Services, Kenya is no stranger to working hopefully through adversity.

Going through breast cancer treatment on a normal day is tough. Going through it during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented Kenya and so many other cancer patients with additional challenges. Above all, she has to take particular care to protect herself from the virus, because chemotherapy temporarily weakens the immune system.

For Kenya, this has meant following quarantine guidelines to the strictest letter. While the pandemic has brought her daughter home from college and has kept Kenya’s 8th-grade son home from school, Kenya’s increased risk of infection means both children are staying at their dad’s house. The kids are staying indoors for two weeks, with no excursions or contact with others, to ensure they don’t have any coronavirus symptoms before visiting their mom the day before her surgery.

“COVID-19 could possibly prolong phase 2 [the post-surgery phase of her treatment] if I don’t stay healthy,” says Kenya. “I need people to stay in. Think about all the people you’re affecting by going out in public.”

Kenya Johnson graphic with hashtag #stayhomeforcancerpatients

Above: Kenya’s daughter made this social media graphic to encourage others to maintain social distancing to protect cancer patients.

While she’s been confined inside herself the last few weeks, Kenya has been working hard to keep up her mental and physical strength. “Exercise keeps me going. So does FaceTiming with my children… And Netflix and Hulu,” she adds with a laugh. Her exercise routine includes walks in her neighborhood, jumping rope, and floor exercises.

While Kenya is very careful about limiting her exposure to the outside world during the pandemic, she notes that her upcoming surgery is worth the risk. “I can’t stop my journey,” she says. “The cancer is still there. I have to have this surgery – it’s not elective. This is part of the healing process.”

More than anything, she wants other breast cancer survivors, fighters, and thrivers to know that they’re not alone, even if some or all of their support system is not quarantined with them. Kenya says her significant other has been so important to her, particularly during the past few weeks. “He is my right hand and I couldn’t imagine going through this without him. He, my children, and my super big support system of family and friends keep me motivated. I have no other choice.”

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