Cancer was a large part of Neil Johnson’s life long before he was diagnosed with it.
His nephew, Kevin Patoc, died of leukemia in 2008 while he was attending Hawai’i Pacific University.
While Kevin and his family were fighting for his health, they were also fighting to get college scholarships for his younger brother.
“They kept getting turned down, because on paper, they made too much money,” Johnson recalled. “But the reality was, when the bills came in, they were broke.”
When the Bonney Lake mayor was diagnosed with blood cancer, chronic myelogenous leukemia, in 2011, his family went through the same fight trying to get scholarships for his oldest daughter, Rendi, with similarly unfortunate results.
“So I told my wife, after my transplant, I said if I make it through this, we need to get a foundation started for the kids in our area that doesn’t disqualify you because of what your income tax statement says,” Johnson said. “It will base it on reality.”
Johnson’s dream has finally been realized, and the Johnson Cancer Foundation is now a fully operational non-profit offering a total of $12,000 in college scholarships for students who lives are affected by cancer.
This scholarship opportunity is open to all students in the Sumner, White River and Enumclaw school districts.
Johnson aims to award three scholarships this year for $4,000 each, and have the scholarships be parceled out a bit every year while students attend community college, a vocational school or a four-year university.
Deadline for applying is May 1. The application form can be downloaded at johnsoncancerfoundation.org or by emailing the foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A COMMUNITY FOUNDATION
Serving on the foundation’s board are several members of the Plateau community, and everyone has their own personal experiences with cancer.
“Everyone is tied together,” Johnson said. “Everybody on the board has had some form of cancer hit their family… it’s really personal to everybody on the board, helping people affected by cancer.”
Gail Gardner, who donated stem cells to Johnson (“her bag of blood helped save my life,” he said), is a director.
Bonney Lake City Administrator Don Morrison is also on the board, as well as Councilman Randy McKibbon.
Other members include Kevin’s mother, Gretel Patoc, as well as Suzanne Kipfer, Don Larson, Kevin Fitterer, Sarah Collins and Kerri Hubler.
Currently, one board member position is currently open, and Johnson said that while he’s looking to invite someone to come on board, “if someone is interested, I’d love to hear from them.”
UPCOMING EVENTS, SPECIAL PROJECTS
Much of the money being offered up in the foundation’s first year has come from Johnson and his family, but donations have started to roll in.
To get the local community engaged with the foundation, Johnson and the board of directors are planning a few events in the near future, including a golf tournament in May or June, a meat smoke-off in mid to late September, and between the two, maybe a wine tasting event.
What Johnson is really excited about, though, is foundation merchandise and his upcoming book.
The clothing line that he wants to start will be featuring the logo of the foundation, which was designed by Kevin.
“Kevin was a very good artist, but he was an oceanographer,” Johnson said. “His favorite animal was the octopus, and that was his favorite drawing… Every time I look at it, I think of Kevin. It’s very important that when we look at the foundation, we honor Kevin’s legacy.”
Also being released soon will be Johnson’s first book, “Our Journey.”
The book focuses on Mary Ann’s (his wife) writings all through the first year Johnson was getting treatment.
“It’s all about the caregiver. Mary Ann was my caregiver, and her experience and her writings were so cool. They really show the emotion of each day,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be really good for caregivers… to understand the emotions of the caregiver, the needs of the caregiver. You see a lot of books for cancer patients — they gave me a bunch of books to read, and I didn’t want to read them because I didn’t want to predetermine how I was going to feel — but there’s not a lot of books on caregivers and how caregivers should go into it.
“There’s nothing that talks about what kind of emotions are you going to go through as a caregiver,” he continued. “Are you going to be frustrated? Yes. Are you going to feel elated? Yes. Feel lonely? Yes. But there are going to be days where there are other emotions that you never thought of. And then you look at the little victories each day. It’s hard to look at little victories. But having your blood count rising up, that’s a victory of that day.”
Johnson, who said he’s still been unable to put the book down even after helping put it together for the past year, hopes to have it released in the next three months, and all proceeds made from the book will be donated to the foundation.