HomeNewsArticle Display

Staff sergeant beats cancer

Staff Sgt. Richard L. Johnson and his wife, Christa, look at two scrapbooks with their daughter, Ayda, inside their home Feb. 13, 2014, in California. Christa designed the scrapbooks to document Richard’s seven-month long fight against cancer. Now cancer free, Richard said he feels blessed and he’s looking forward to getting back to work. Johnson is a 660th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron KC-10 crew chief. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. James M. Hodgman)

Staff Sgt. Richard L. Johnson and his wife, Christa, look at two scrapbooks with their daughter, Ayda, inside their home Feb. 13, 2014, in California. Christa designed the scrapbooks to document Richard’s seven-month long fight against cancer. Now cancer free, Richard said he feels blessed and he’s looking forward to getting back to work. Johnson is a 660th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron KC-10 crew chief. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. James M. Hodgman)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

For many people, Independence Day is all about celebration, spending time with family and watching fireworks light up the night sky, but on July 4, 2014, there was no celebrating for Staff Sgt. Richard L. Johnson.

On that fateful day at Travis Air Force Base, California, just two months after his daughter Ayda was born, the 660th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron KC-10 crew chief from Naugtauck, Connecticut, learned he had cancer.

"I experienced pain that got progressively worse for about two months," Johnson said. "I just attributed it to being work related or sleeping the wrong way. At the beginning of July, though, the pain got pretty bad. I knew something was wrong."

Doctors at the David Grant USAF Medical Center discovered Johnson had a cancerous mass the size of a football in his abdomen. The cancer quickly spread and was pushing against several internal organs, as well as against Johnson's spine, causing extreme pain.

"Because of the size of it, they rushed everything," Johnson said. "I was diagnosed on a Friday, in surgery the next day and started chemotherapy a week later."

Johnson said that a team of medical professionals at DGMC, a group he refers to as the dream team, was able to remove some of the cancer. He would have to endure chemotherapy treatments to halt the cancer's growth and shrink the mass so doctors could remove the rest.

The staff sergeant underwent three months of treatments with serious ramifications between July and October.

"I experienced several side effects from the treatments," Johnson said. "I had no memory, extreme migraines, lost all my hair, (had) numbness and tingling in my hands and feet, constant fatigue and extreme back and bone pain. It took all the energy I had to get off the couch."

Despite experiencing such adversity, Johnson said he refused to allow himself to focus on anything negative.

"I never let my mind wander down a negative path," he said.

Referring to the cancer that was ravaging his body, Johnson said the disease was merely a speed bump, an obstacle to overcome. It was an approach that impressed his wife of two years, Christa Johnson.

"He was unbelievable the entire time," Christa said. "I've never seen anything like it. I'm married to him and he shocked me."

Johnson credits his ability to stay positive while he fought for his life to the support he received from his unit.

After learning about Johnson's diagnosis, members of the 660th AMXS, as well as the 60th Maintenance Operations Squadron, quickly responded with an outpouring of support.

A fundraising site was set up to help the Johnsons with expenses; more than 30 meals were delivered to their home, Airmen volunteered to babysit, mow the lawn and several of Johnson's coworkers accompanied him during his chemotherapy treatments.

Master Sgt. Tiffany Risser and Master Sgt. Sean Redline of the 660th AMXS set up the fundraising site, as well as a volunteer site where people could support the Johnsons in a variety of ways.

"It's our responsibility to be there for our people and their families, especially in their time of need," Risser said.

The master sergeant recalled the meetings she held informing people of Johnson's condition.

"When I stood in front of our roll call and briefed them on the situation, they were shocked and visibly upset. They could not believe this was happening to one of our own,” she said. “Some looked like statues and did not move, while others leaned against the wall. I told them he was going to need our full support and as the need arose I would let them know what he needs help with.

"After roll call, several people asked me to let them know what he needed and they would help," she said. "By the time we finished briefing all our shifts, he had an entire team ready to carry him to the cancer-free finish line."

The fundraising site was established to assist the Johnsons with medical expenses and any additional items they may need, Risser said.

"We launched the site on August 6 with a goal of raising $5,000, a goal we smashed in only 24 hours. By August 8 we reached $7,000 and now have raised a total of $8,270, thanks to 125 donors over six months."

It was amazing how many people stepped up and donated immediately, she said.

On October 17, doctors at University of California San Francisco's Helen Diller Treatment Center for Cancer removed the remaining cancerous cells from Johnson's body.

Now cancer free, Johnson shares what the support he and his family received meant to him.

"Knowing so many people loved and cared for us was phenomenal," he said. "We were never alone. Many of my co-workers and friends sat with me during my treatments, others watched our daughter so Christa could work and attend my appointments. Dinners were provided so we never had to worry about that. It was all taken care of. I'm extremely touched and thankful."

The Johnsons are now focused on helping others. The couple has donated a total of $1,000 to several people battling cancer, many of them children, through numerous fundraising sites. They say it's their way of paying it forward.

"Take things one day at a time," Christa said. "You can't think too far ahead. You have to live in the moment in that day and not think about what could happen. Focus on getting your family through one day at a time and remember the good that's happening every day."

Engage

Twitter
.@SecAFOfficial, @GenCQBrownJr & @cmsaf_official visited Liberty Village @jointbasemdl, N.J. The team toured op cen… https://t.co/erJs60sYOi
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Enjoyed speaking w/ Republic of Singapore Air Force CAF Maj. Gen. Kelvin Khong. The @USAirForce is grateful for Singapore…
Twitter
Members of the 33rd Rescue Squadron, @KadenaAirBase, Japan, recently participated in joint training with U.S. Marin… https://t.co/aef3q4JuoB
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: Senior leaders, including SecAF Kendall, visited #TaskForceLiberty where active duty, Guard & Reserve service members ar…
Twitter
RT @USAFRecruiting: Why make just one mark on the world when you can make many? @usairforce @GenCQBrownJr https://t.co/xXidr8buDI
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: To ensure success -- or head off failure -- we must rapidly develop and deliver new capabilities. We must make difficult…
Twitter
.@RAFMildenhall #Airmen from the maintenance, intel, weather and security forces career fields worked together to g… https://t.co/WKQ7RvpIzP
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: The service members @USAF_EC, @jointbasemdl didn’t believe in impossible. They completely transformed an empty field and…
Twitter
Exercises like Falcon Leap 2020 allow better interoperability among other U.S. branches and international mission p… https://t.co/cML0OvNv3j
Twitter
Curious about the #COVID19 vaccine? Here are some facts to help burst a few #COVID vaccine myths. Learn more here:… https://t.co/7njVBL566L
Twitter
The last Sunday in September marks Gold Star Mother's and Family's Day. We honor and appreciate all those whose l… https://t.co/GmcF36E8nG
Twitter
The Road to #AF75 is all about Airmen, Airpower and Innovation! Today marks the beginning of a year-long series f… https://t.co/ALLC0DK7nB
Twitter
.@DeptofDefense announced the Independent Review Commission Actions and Implementation to Address Sexual Assault an… https://t.co/UfpSe8KNtM
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: This is America’s military performing at its best. I couldn’t be more proud of the #Airmen of @USAF_EC, @jointbasemdl and…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: SecAF Kendall, @GenCQBrownJr & @CMSAF_official visited Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (@jointbasemdl) today to thank s…
Twitter
RT @HQUSAFEAFAF: Medical professionals assigned to @RamsteinAirBase and Rhine Ordnance Barracks, #Germany, began mass administering vaccin…
Twitter
#ICYMI, DAF senior leaders and their spouses participated in a Leadership & the Family panel during #ASC21 held at… https://t.co/FZOnzruyw4
Twitter
RT @HQUSAFEAFAF: U.S. #Airmen from various organizations within USAFE-AFAFRICA participated in Falcon Leap 21, a multinational parachute tr…
Twitter
Hear why this #Airman chose to get vaccinated. @SecAFOfficial directed the COVID-19 vaccine implementation guideli… https://t.co/154QECoeXk
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,378,306
Follow Us