Liberty Pre-med student’s battle with cancer left him with new perspective and boldness

As a pre-med student at Liberty, Brian Johnson was used to reading about illnesses for class. But in 2018, the information he was learning became a reality when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. 

In March of that year, Johnson began to feel ill one day during his shift as a scribe at Lynchburg General’s emergency room (ER). He began to have strange stomach pains and had a high fever, but he pushed the pain aside to finish his shift before heading home.

As the pain sharpened throughout the night, he decided to check in to the ER. As doctors ran tests, endless possible diagnoses occurred to him, but cancer was the last thing to cross his mind. As the doctors began to zero in on a diagnosis, he couldn’t believe what was happening. 

“I remember when I first went up to the room in the hospital,” Johnson said. “I asked my family to give me a little bit of time. This was the first time I was able to process things by myself. This is when I actually broke down.” 

The months that followed were not easy for Johnson. After going through a procedure to surgically remove the cancerous mass in his colon, he had to endure chemotherapy and other treatments to make sure
the cancer was gone. 

“After the treatments finished, I went through two months of being pretty depressed,” Johnson said. “Everyone was congratulating me on finishing my treatments, but I was just down all the time.” 

Even though Johnson was cancer-free, the months of continuous trials had left him kind of lost. Now that the procedures were over, he wondered what was next. 

Questions swirled in his mind: Would he get the cancer again? What would the results of his next routine scan be? The end of treatment didn’t mean the end of worry for Johnson. 

“I was kind of in this weird time frame of ‘Now what?’” Johnson said. “I just had to sit and wait for my next scan, and I would wonder what I would do if it came back. I have a scan coming up in April, and (that feeling of uncertainty) is still
the case now.” 

Even though all of Johnson’s scans since he finished treatment have had positive results indicating that the cancer is gone, he knows there is still a possibility it might come back. The fragile health condition he experienced and the unanswered what if’s have only served to transform his outlook on life. Going through this experience has given Johnson the strength to live with an eternal perspective in mind, knowing he is safe
in God’s hands. 

“It forces you to think about what actually is important,” Johnson said. “For me, the eternal security of things was the aspect that I clung to the most.”

Johnson is set to walk this May during the 2020 commencement. He hopes to do so cancer-free. Although his college career brought hardships he could never have imagined facing, they have served to shape the way he lives. 

“I think a big way (my diagnosis) changed how I live (was by) making me bolder, especially in regard to talking about my faith,” Johnson said. “Since my diagnosis, I’ve found myself being much more willing to bring up Christ in conversations.”

After graduation, Johnson plans to take a few years off to decide if he wants to pursue medical school. 

Elias is a feature reporter. Follow her on Twitter.

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