As one of five children, Emily Johnston actually enjoyed going to the hospital for her chemotherapy treatments—it was one of the only ways she got one-on-one time with her parents.
Doctors diagnosed Emily with leukemia when she was 5, and as the third oldest of five kids, the young girl enjoyed spending close time with her mother and father—even if it meant painful treatment.
“With all her brothers and sisters, she looked forward to the hospital visits,” said Emily’s mother, Elizabeth Johnston.
For more than two years, Emily and her family underwent chemotherapy, numerous doctor visits and the birth of three more children—bringing the total to eight children in the family.
In October 2006, Emily beat her cancer and went into remission. The doctor visits became less frequent—going from once a week to just once a year now.
For years, the now 14-year-old rising freshman at Glen Burnie High was the benefactor of events like Relay for Life. But on Friday night, Emily attended the Southern Anne Arundel County Relay for Life at South River High and devoted herself to helping others do exactly what she did—defeat cancer.
“I’m completely cured as of right now, been officially cured for a few years,” Emily told Patch Friday at South River. “[Relay for Life] is a very good idea. It’s more than just sending a check. This is fundraising while having fun. I think it’s awesome.”
Wearing a purple T-shirt made specifically for cancer survivors at the event, Emily and more than 20 others participated in the ceremonial “first lap,” at Friday’s event.
Elizabeth Johnston looked on proudly while her daughter walked and Emily’s younger brothers and sisters used their mom like a personal jungle gym.
“We’ll stick around for awhile, but I’ve got to get these guys in bed,” Elizabeth Johnston said with a smile.
After the first lap, Emily joined the One Step At A Time team station to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Team captain Samantha Anastasis, of Crofton, said their team of 18 people has three total cancer survivors, including Emily.
As the opening proceedings concluded and participants settled in for the 12-hour, all-night event, Emily reflected on her journey up to this point in her life.
“When I tell people I had cancer, they just don’t believe me sometimes,” said the teen.
The Fort Meade resident said her experience with cancer will always be a part of who she is, but that it will never define her. Despite being “cured” for years, Emily still celebrates her “diagnosis day,” when she first learned that she had cancer.
“It’s just a few weeks before my actual birthday,” Emily said. “In my mind, it’s like the same thing.”
The official amount raised by residents at this year’s Relay for Life hasn’t been released. But prior to the event, teams and individuals brought in more than $66,500.
Did you attend Friday night’s Relay for Life at South River? Share your favorite moment from the event in the comments.