LAURINBURG — On June 23, 2010, Michael Johnson’s life changed, and so did that of his entire family. It was the day the then-13-year-old was diagnosed with cancer.
The medical terminology he heard was acute lymphoblastic leukemia — a blood and bone marrow cancer that affects white blood cells. The cancer is common in children but also very curable. But it took visits to several different hospitals to get a diagnosis.
Six months earlier, Michael fell down the steps and ended up with an L6 spinal compression — but he was brushed off by doctors, who said he was young and would grow out of it. In the end, it was the fall that led to the discovery of his cancer.
“I felt pretty bad finding out,” Michael said. “You’re a kid and you’re diagnosed with something you’ve always heard people dying of.”
While Michael struggled with his diagnosis, his family rallied behind him — including his mother Amy Johnson, along with brothers Raylon and Jeremy Jacobs.
“We were separated at the time and it really brought us all together,” Jeremy said. “It made us a lot more protective of each other, too.”
For Michael, his family was a big reason he made it through treatment. But during the first stint of treatment, he didn’t want to continue and refused to go to chemotherapy. Amy even went as far as taking him to the Scotland County Sheriff’s Office to try and get him to go.
According to Michael, the reasoning was because he thought he was going to die despite the treatments, so he didn’t want to bother with the treatments.
“I had a lot of downs,” Michael said. “But I also had a lot more ups and I remember the ups a lot more.”
Raylon said he thought the reasoning behind Michael not wanting treatment was because he got worse before he got better. Michael agreed, saying that he had begun to lose his hair and his bones had begun to ache, making him lose a bit of hope. But he wants those going through treatment to have a more positive outlook.
“You’ve got to stick through it,” Michael said. “It could be a lot worse and it could be a lot better, but you’ve got to lean on others. I think that’s an issue because the generations are so separated. We should all learn to love each other again.”
Michael said his family taught him everything from how to do wheelchair wheelies to just being supportive of him and encouraging him.
On Oct. 12, 2013, at the age 15, Michael was declared cancer-free — but that doesn’t mean he was in the clear.
“I felt really good to be cleared,” Michael said. “But the doctor told me you have to be aware it could come back. But I was happy it was gone.”
His cancer has made the entire family get active in the annual Scotland County Relay for Life, which raises money for cancer awareness and research.
“Cancer doesn’t discriminate, especially if it’s genetic,” Amy said. “We were the ones who thought we could never be the ones it happens to; the aftermath of the diagnosis is what you make of it.”
For Michael, the survivors who participate in the walk are one of the most important aspects for those who are currently fighting cancer in order to help promote fighting harder against cancer.
“I think the whole reason for Relay is you see all these people that have survived,” Michael said. “They’ve walked all these years — which tells the people going through the cancer treatments and stuff now that they have a chance and they shouldn’t just give up, it’s going to be alright. You shouldn’t do what I tried to do and quit.”
The family wants the community to get involved and become more involved with the event, as well as coming together to support those in the community who are fighting.
“The community is a lot more involved than you think,” Raylon said. “It’s not just the kids with cancer but it’s the whole family affected. The community supported us and gave us so much.”
Raylon and Michael shared about how a stranger gave their mother money to buy a new PlayStation and how it wasn’t just Michael who got to go on special trips, but the whole family.
As a family, they went to Disney World and stayed at the Give Kids the World Village, and Raylon and Michael have gone to camps such as Camp Happy Days together.
The 22nd annual Scotland County Relay for Life is being held Saturday at Scotland High’s Pate Stadium. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The opening ceremony will kick off with a parachute jump from the Golden Knights, followed by a survivor lap and caregiver lap — where you might just be able to find Michael and his family going around the track.