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Saturday April 13, 2024

Karen Johnston


I have always been a strong supporter of charities that help those afflicted with various diseases and disorders and those that seek a cure. After losing a number of friends and my beautiful sister Phyllis to cancer, I began making contributions to various cancer research groups and charities. I also decided to grow my hair longer and donate it to Locks of Love; the organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children suffering from long time medical hair loss. It seemed like a way to give from the heart and I took comfort in knowing that I would be helping someone in a difficult situation. In 2009, I donated an 11-inch ponytail.

I also resolved to take care of myself and stay healthy and strong: bike riding, running, horseback riding, walking, reading, spending time with family. These seemed like good ways to enjoy life. Many of these activities I undertook with friends, none of us knowing what was ahead in my journey. In 2008, I was diagnosed with cancer and my own life’s course was changed forever. I was no longer on the sidelines witnessing the battle; I was on the battlefield.

A cancer patient spends a great deal of time in doctors’ offices and lab and that was true for me. At each visit, I noticed and appreciate the care and love from our local oncologists and their staffs. Without fail, they treated me as if I were the only patient ever to be diagnosed, as if I were the most important person in the world. Over time, I came to see that they treated every patient this way. The doctors, nurses technicians, receptionists—they were incredibly wonderful people. In the chemo lab especially, as I sat for hours connected to intravenous therapy. I watched and listened and felt awed at the kindness of the staff—their words of wisdom, their compassion, their gentleness. They even inspired me to consider becoming an oncology nurse, so great was my desire to help people suffering with this illness and so remarkable were the men and women committed to healing me.

During my treatments, I met some of the finest people I have ever encountered, including other patients. We were a team; we were there for the same purpose – trying to stay alive and I noticed that some patients never had family or friends visit like I did. I listened as patients tried to figure out how they were going to return for the next doctor or chemo appointment or how they were going to pay for their medications or their utilities. It was obvious that some patients didn’t have insurance, jobs, transportation, family, or the energy to get through the next day. Even as cancer medicine dripped into my veins, I felt I had to count my blessings and giving thanks to God for sparing my life. I realized I needed to do something to help those less fortunate.

Then, the light bulb came on while I was talking to a physician’s assistant at my doctor’s office. A 5K Run/Walk would be a great way to involve the community and raise money for the Danville-Pittsylvania Cancer Association while simultaneously promoting good health habits for participants. What better way for our community to support Danville-Pittsylvania Cancer, which receives no funding from the American Cancer Society. Members of the DPC don’t toot their own horns because they’re too busy helping others. 

The Danville Pittsylvania Cancer Association focuses on patient aid with over $200,000 spent on cancer-related prescriptions, travel assistance, medical supplies and equipment, wigs, prosthesis and other special needs. We do provide some educational materials and still present educational programs. DPC also has a support group that is held at 223 Riverview Drive, Suite H on the last Tuesday of every month (except June and December).

Nearly everyone’s life has been affected by cancer, either personally or through a family member or friend. Until there is a cure, there is no escaping it. I have witnessed and felt firsthand the warmth and caring of the people of Danville and Pittsylvania County. I work at Karen’s Hallmark Shop in Danville Mall and over the years I have met some of my best friends there. Such loving and giving people: parents, family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and customers. I am truly blessed to live in this wonderful community of such solid, good-natured people. Southside Virginia is truly a place where people care about each other. We each have talents or gifts that we’ve been given and we must use them in positive ways. When we all join together like my friends and family have done, there is nothing we can’t accomplish. Join us in helping the DPC. Please keep an eye out for the information about the 9th annual Bridge-to-Bridge 5K & 10K in Danville, Virginia.           

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