‘A happy journey’: Lymphoma patient named CCA Homecoming Queen

Published 4:51 pm Thursday, February 1, 2018


Chilton Christian Academy has a new queen, and her tiara rests on a perfectly bald head.

Elise Johnson, 17, was named Homecoming Queen during a CCA Homecoming basketball game on Jan. 25.

After four months of chemotherapy treatment and homeschooling, Johnson did not see it coming.

She has Hodgkin Lymphoma, a rare cancer in which white blood cells attack the lymph nodes.

“ ‘Holy crap!’ That’s what was going through my mind,” she laughed as she recalled the homecoming announcement. “‘Let’s hope I don’t trip.’”

Johnson’s sisters Elaina, 17, and Lillian, 13, represented their classes on the court, and Johnson was escorted by her brother Carter.

In a special moment, their oldest sister Hannah Ray crowned Johnson queen.

Johnson was diagnosed with cancer on Oct. 23 — mere weeks after Ray’s wedding and about a month after Johnson’s varsity volleyball season ended.

Although the Johnsons described the timing as a blessing, the family was aware of the unchartered waters they were voyaging into.

They call it a happy journey — and a speedy one.

“It’s been fast. It’s been so fast,” Elise Johnson said.

It all began when Johnson discovered a soft lump on her neck.

“Within 10 days, we had a diagnosis and we had our first chemo,” Charlotte Johnson, Elise Johnson’s mother, said.

Since then, Elise Johnson has endured four chemotherapy treatments and, beginning the week of Feb. 5, will undergo 14 radiation treatments over three weeks — one treatment per day.

Johnson said it wasn’t until her first fistful of hair fell out after her second chemotherapy treatment that she felt the reality of her diagnosis.

“That was the first time I was like, ‘I have cancer,’” she said. “It was freaky.”

Johnson said the family’s surreal circumstances have been processed with pockets of grief.

Crying is restricted to five minutes.

“We can only be sad about this for a little bit, and then we need to move on and have fun with it,” Johnson said.

True to the proverb, laughter has been the greatest medicine for the Johnson family. They crack jokes about cancer and create cancer-themed parodies. They laugh about awkward conversations with individuals who stumble into the realization of Johnson’s condition.

The community has been a steady support.

“There’s been countless people,” Johnson said, describing “precious” gifts, such as a prayed-over prayer shawl transported from the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem and cherished gifts of time, energy and Germ-X-armed protection of Johnson at community events.

CCA boys basketball players even shaved their heads for Johnson.

“It was just a straight-up show of support,” Charlotte Johnson said. “Especially as much as they love their hair.”

Victory Baptist Church and CCA created a fund for Elise Johnson and her family, to cover transportation expenses for her many trips to Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham.

Anyone interested in donating can call the CCA office at (205) 688-4454.

“Don’t be sad,” Johnson encourages readers. “Just be thankful for what you’ve got. It’s one of those things — it happens. Bad things happen. Let’s smile through it. I just wanted to be an example of what being positive looks like.”