Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pieces of Me (Part II)

This definitely took me a bit longer to put up than I first expected. Low immune systems don't fair too well with seasonal changes & germs brought home with nieces & nephews.
Alas, here are 10 more things about me & my life that may or may not know.
Here, here, here we go! 

1.) Instead of a "bucket list", I have what I call a "life list" that I keep in my journal; some are potentially do-able while others are insanely out-there but I think it's important to dream big. Here's a peek:
* Take a ballroom dancing class.
* Conquer a ropes course.
.* Visit the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, PA & leave a "thank you" card.
*Have a photo session in the rain.
*Write my memoir. 
*Dip my feet in the Pacific ocean.
*Go to a NKOTB concert.
*Collect all Frank Sinatra, Nirvana, & Beatles vinyls.

2.) The 3rd type of chemo I was on for 6 months, Xeloda, completely obliterated my metabolism & thyroid. I gained 14 lbs in less than 7 days & the weight just continued to pile on. After some blood work, we found that my thyroid count was 3 TIMES what it should have been. So, I was diagnosed with "hyperthyroidism". Overall, I gained around 50+lbs  until I topped off at 180. Gaining so much weight in such little time wrecked havoc on my already-achy, weak knees & ankles. I was constantly in excruciating pain & ended up having to use a cane for quite some time, while still continually having to stop & catch my breath. I developed sleep-apnea & my asthma started to flare up. The mental & emotional pain was just as bad; I didn't want to leave the house or have anyone see me. I wouldn't return calls because I didn't want to have to answer truthfully when someone asked how I was doing. Whenever I did muster enough courage to look in the mirror, I didn't recognize the person starring back at me - physically or mentally. I was so lost & felt like another part of me was out of my control. I know that sounds so vain, but I really felt even more disconnected to who I was BC (before cancer). It wasn't until fairly recently that my body finally began to recover enough to the point where I am beginning to drop my chemo pounds; so far I've lost about 30ish-some pounds & I'm feeling more like BC Lisa (inside & out) than I have in a really, really long time.

3.) We planned our wedding in about 2 & 1/2 weeks. After Chad & I got engaged in January 2008 we initially planned to get married in May 2009 but as things do, that changed. In early 2009 we opted for a small wedding on January 31st which just happened to be the anniversary of our very first date five years before. We're from an extremely small town, so it was inevitable that the "is she??, isn't she??" talk made it's rounds. The truth is that  I couldn't imagine having a big wedding without my big brothers so we kept it simple & intimate. (Shout-out to my mom, Mary, for being the best wedding planner ever!)
*BONUS Random - because we had lost both my brothers, Chad was so amazing that he took our last name in hopes that our child (which unbeknownst to us at the time, will be our one-day adopted child) could carry on the Johnson name, so we became "Mr. & Mrs. Chad & Lisa Johnson".

4.) I can't even estimate how many numbers I performed during my 17+ years of dance. However, my favorite - by far - was portraying "Tinkerbell" in 5th Street Dance Company's "Adventures of Peter Pan" when I was 15. 

5.) I'm obviously very open about sharing my stories about cancer & life, however I'm incredibly protective of the poetry I write. It safely stays in my journal for my eyes only.   

6.) I love showing my cancer warpaint by coloring parts of my hair royal blue (the ribbon color for Colorectal Cancer). It gives me such a sense of empowerment & pride. I love explaining the reason behind it when someone asks about it. The first go'round my mom, my older sister Barb, my nephew Brian, & my niece Brea (who where 8 & 5 at the time) also rocked blue in their hair for me. Eventually I want to get a "CRC star" tattoo but I'm giving my immune system the much-needed time to recover. So, until then, I'm perfectly content with my blue locks.

7.) I am a HUGE, like really huge, John Cusack fan. He's, without a doubt, my absolute favorite actor of all-time. Not only is he insanely talented but he's also an intelligent, politically passionate man who, let's be honest here, is agelessly gorgeous. (no comparison to you Chad - I love you boo!). There is no denying the fact the he is a terrific actor - how many hearts did he melt as Lloyd Dobler in "Say Anything"?! I don't think it's possible to hear "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel & not have this image pop into your head:
It's definitely an iconic 80's movie-moment.
*My favorite, all-time, JC movie is, fo sho,"High Fidelity" which I could watch over & over. 
*"Martian Child" was epic, "Grace is Gone" literally made my heart ache, "Serendipity" instilled in me 1 of my all-time favorite quotes:"Life is not merely a series of meaningless accidents or coincidences, but rather, it's a tapestry of events that culminate in an exquisite sublime plan", & he scared the bajebus out of me in thrillers like "Identity", "1408", "The Paperboy", & "The Frozen Ground". I really could go on & on but I think you get my point. I'm forever a fan. Siiiiggghhh. ;)

8.) My favorite musician, aside from my girl T.Swift, is a Canadian-based, independent artist named Alexz Johnson. I first came across her ridiciously amazing (and I only say ridiciously when I reallllly mean it) voice on a show called "Instant Star" in 2004. Her voice is complete magic. "Look At Those Eyes" quickly became my theme song after diagnosis & her albums, "Voodoo" & "Skipping Stone" became an awesome soundtrack for the unpredictableness of everyday. Here are few of my AJ favorites:

9.) I have a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology & an Associate's Degree in Criminal Justice. I graduated from Fairmont State University in May 2009 (after taking a few non-consecutive semesters off after losing my brothers) & was offered the dance coaching job right around the same time. The "plan" was to coach for a year & then start looking for a job in the "real world". Well, the real world smacked me upside the head when I was diagnosed with cancer 9 months later, but at least my diploma looks pretty.

10.) I've lost 5 of the most important people in my life since 2004.
On August 28, 2004 My 24-year-old brother, John, & his fiance, Leslie, both passed away of smoke & soot inhalation in a house fire; every room was completely destroyed except for their bedroom; they didn't have a single burn on either of them. They were crazy in love & were so excited to spend the rest of their lives together; now they are forever together.

A little over 2 years later (28 months actually) on December 07, 2006, my 32-year-old brother James passed away unexpectedly from "acute brocho-pneumonia" that had became septic & entered his blood-stream. He had been experiencing flu-like symptoms for a few days & had promised to go to the doctor that day. Jay, as we called him, was a magnificent father who loved spending time with his "little bit" Emma. He was so funny, charismatic, sarcastic, an self-admittingly charming. :)
A little over 2 years after that (again 28 months later - I know, freaky, right?) on April 19, 2008 we lost my Gram (or GG for "great-grandmom") after a long, exhausting, awful battle with Alzheimer's. Gram was the most loving lady in the world & seemed to become more beautiful which each passing year. I remember when I was little watching her roll her hair in little buns all over her head every night before bed so she would have curls in the morning. I will never forget her laugh -  she had the best laugh.
The day after my 2nd surgery the lasted 8 & 1/2 hours - September 23, 2011 my "mom & dad #2" (who's late daughter I was named after) were in a freak car accident on the interstate heading home after coming to Pittsburgh with us the day before to be by my side, as they always were. Sis passed away immediately on scene while Jim was flown to the trauma hospital in Pittsburgh. He lived for 10 more days & passed away on October 2, 2011, exactly 1 day after I came home safe & sound from my surgery. I know he waited for me. Their deaths are the one I have the most trouble with; a small part of me will always feel guilty. 

{Top row, from left to right: John, Jay, Gram, Jim & Sis}
I miss them all beyond words can explain, so much it physically hurts me. The only comfort I can find in losing them is that they are all together; they're my family in Heaven - my angels. I'm not a super religious person but I do say prayers at night & I always end by talking to them, sometimes one-by-one, other times all-together.
How lucky I was to love & be loved by all of them.

I hope you guys are enjoying getting a look at the various aspects of my life because, at the end of the day, I have a pretty amazing life. I'm loved, healthy, sarcastic, happy, & stronger than I would have ever imagined.

love & lyrics, 
- LISA -


  1. I like your post. I think this is the great way to share your feelings and say thanks to other.

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  2. Thank you so much Bruce, I really appreciate your feedback!

  3. Thanks for putting two & two together for me. My knees have been aching like crazy lately and had no idea why. Now I know it must've been the 50+ lbs I've put on since chemo with Xeloda. Gotta ask my onc about it.

    1. Yes, definitely do! Maybe even ask for blood labs to check your thyroid count; my last infusion was in May 2012 but I'm still on "Synthroid" to regulate my metabolism. Hang in there!!!