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Johnson’s cancer story a positive one

“This is Why I Relay” will be a regular feature during the weeks leading up to the Franklin County Relay For Life event on May 3. It will showcase different members of the community and why they support the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life.

Belinda Johnson serves as the chief nursing officer/chief clinical officer for Russellville Hospital during the workday, but Johnson is also a cancer survivor and American Cancer Society (ACS) advocate – titles she carries 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Johnson had supported the ACS during her adult years, but it wasn’t until after she was diagnosed with cancer in June of 2005 that she started to become an active participant in an organization that raises money to fight a disease that she had to personally fight as well.
When Johnson was in recovery in 2006, she became an ACS Cancer Action Network (CAN) volunteer, which is someone who works with state and federal legislators to make changes and shape policies for cancer research and programs.
Through her work with ACS CAN, she also became actively involved in Relay For Life.
“I had gone to Relay For Life events in the past but because of my diagnosis, I wanted to help other people who had been diagnosed with cancer or who had family who had been diagnosed,” she said.
Johnson began serving on the Franklin County Relay For Life Committee in 2006 and became the committee chairperson in 2008 and still serves in that capacity today.
“My journey with cancer has been very blessed,” she said. “I am cancer-free and living a healthy life. But through my work with the ACS, I have met so many whose journeys weren’t as fortunate as mine and that motivates me to keep moving and paying it forward.
“I want to raise more money until everybody’s stories are as positive as mine is.”
Johnson said to many people, Relay For Life is just an event that raises money for a cause – similar to so many other events and charities that raise money and awareness today.
But she has experienced firsthand the effects of what funds raised through the ACS and the Relay For Life can do for someone like her who was diagnosed with cancer.
“I’ve been there. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, I know the fear that is felt and how it turns your life upside down,” she said.
“But I also know what the American Cancer Society can do for people in that situation. I know many people here locally stay at the Hope Lodge in Birmingham, which is supported by the ACS, when they are getting treatments in Birmingham so they don’t have to stay in a hotel.
“And I have seen the strides ACS-funded researchers are making. And ACS-funded researcher was the one who developed the mammogram screening and an ACS-funded researcher came up with a medication that helps patients, like my uncle, who have a certain type of leukemia to live longer.
“Everyone raises money for one cause or another, but when you can look at these specific things and see the benefits, it makes you want to go out and raise more money through events like the Relay For Life so you can keep the momentum going and one day find a cure for this disease that affects so many people.”
Johnson said she has heard many excuses over the years for why people don’t participate in their local Relay For Life events. But then she said she has often wondered what it would mean if events like the Relay For Life didn’t exist.
“People always have other things going on – the kids are involved in sports or dance, they have a demanding job, they just want to sit and relax and not waste a Friday night. But what if everyone was too busy to too tired to come out and support the Relay For Life? What if we didn’t raise that money? What if we just threw up our hands and said “I’m just going to let someone else worry about that’? How many more lives would have been lost to this disease if it weren’t for the funds that have already been raised in years past?
“Those questions motivate me to keep coming out and supporting the Relay For Life. I’m a product of the research and the fundraising and I want to give back. It’s my personal way of being thankful for the support I received and helping people who are in the same situation.”
Johnson said it’s never too late to get involved with this year’s Relay For Life event in Franklin County, which will take place May 3, at 7 p.m. at the Russellville High School Stadium.
“Getting involved is simple. There are teams already established who would be glad to have more team members and we always welcome new teams,” she said.
“Supporting the Relay For Life doesn’t have to consume your whole life, but any amount of work or support you give will be life-changing for someone. Trust me.”
To find out more about supporting or getting involved with this year’s Franklin County Relay For Life, contact local ACS community representative Megan Lovelace at 256-767-0825 or by e-mail at