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Survivor: 'Cancer Is Not A Death Sentence'

May 6, 2012, 10:07 PM by Casey Wonnenberg

Survivor: 'Cancer Is Not A Death Sentence'
SIOUX FALLS, SD -

At 23, she was diagnosed with cancer and told she had around two or three months to live. But seven years later, Annie Johnson of Sioux Falls is still here and not showing any signs of slowing down.

It's in the early morning hours when Johnson gets ready to leave work instead of start her day.  Johnson works an overnight shift at South Dakota Achieve.

"I love my job. I've been working with people with disabilities for seven years," Johnson said.

The 30 year old says not only does she enjoy life, she knows first hand just how precious it can be.

"It was a tumor about the size of a soccer ball in my chest cavity," Johnson said.

She was just 23 years old and enrolling in college when doctors found Hodgkin's lymphoma, cancer of the lymph tissue. Two years into her battle against the disease, tumors started appearing all over her chest and lungs.

"Timetables are always relevant, but it was two to three months that they thought I had left at that point," Johnson said.

But instead of giving up, Johnson decided to fight harder. She started weekly chemotherapy treatments, improved her diet and prayed.

"Just prayed for a miracle, and really, it happened. It was pretty much a miracle that I'm still here," Johnson said.

After two and a half years of fighting, doctors told Johnson she was cancer free.

After Johnson beat cancer, she started to work full-time and go to school full-time. In fact, she's now graduated from USD, but she still has plenty on her agenda.

Johnson now volunteers her time promoting cancer awareness through a group called ACS Cancer Connect. The American Cancer Society group is made up of cancer survivors, community leaders and doctors.

"I get to sit in with this group of people that have had such a significant role in fighting cancer and still do, like oncologists, surgeons, and radiation oncologists," Johnson said.

While Johnson appreciates the opportunity, others in the group say Johnson plays an important role.

"She's also a wonderful resource to visit with and find ways that we can really reach out to the cancer survivors in the community too," ACS Cancer Connect Member Katie Van Beek said.

In this meeting, members are discussing ways to encourage people to wear sunscreen and prevent skin cancer. That's not the only message Johnson hopes to get across.

"I really want people to know that cancer is not a death sentence. My goal ultimately is to create awareness for other survivors, so they can see there's hope," Johnson said.

But now hope is what Johnson needs. After spending around four years cancer-free, she has now relapsed.

"You never know when your time is up. You have to just appreciate every moment. Since I got cancer, I have cherished every phase of life, whether it's college, the time after college or spending time with family," Johnson said.

That's why Johnson says she's enjoying every moment.

"For me, doing my job is part of life, and I love it. Living life to the fullest, you know, feeling kind of normal in that way," Johnson said.

Because Johnson says even normal events are extra special.

Johnson is optimistic that she'll beat cancer once again. And right now, she's undergoing another round of chemotherapy.

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