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Community rallies around Houston Co. teacher battling breast cancer

Updated: May. 30, 2021 at 4:46 PM CDT
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HOUSTON COUNTY, Texas (KTRE) - An East Texas teacher has inspired those not only in the classroom but throughout her entire county. Now the community is rallying around her in her fight against stage three breast cancer.

Last summer, then-28-year-old Houston County native Katie Johnston went in for her annual exam where everything checked out. Months later, she noticed a lump that got bigger over time. She went in for a biopsy and mammogram and the results came back cancerous.

“I was teaching that day and it was the week of my 29th birthday at the beginning of that week,” Johnston said. “It was after school and I got that phone call. Luckily no one was around me at the time. It was surreal. It hit me out of nowhere and the 6 months that lead up to it, I just couldn’t imagine something like that happening.”

Johnston waited until she got the official diagnosis before telling her 8th grade English Language Arts students at Crockett Junior High.

“The kids have responded well to it,” she said. “They understood. A lot of them reached out to me personally, like sent me an email or something. They would check on me and see how I’m doing. They would said, ‘we miss you; we want you back.’ That support from them as meant a lot for me because I was just worried. I did not want them to feel like I abandoned them because I was only with them a semester really.

With her cancer diagnosis and the COVID-19 pandemic, Crockett ISD allowed her to teach virtually all year long.

“I’m really thankful for my sub that I’ve had at Crockett,” Johnston said. “She’s been great with my students. She’s helped me tremendously. My coworkers in generally have been really supportive. I’m so thankful my school has allowed me to do this and that they want me to come back again next year.”

All year long, communities across Houston County have shown their support for Johnston.

“I have an aunt that had passed away in her 40s with breast cancer,” Latexo High School Principal Kim Watson said. “With the same battle. I feel as a young person, it is important for her to see that everyone around her, her family, her friends; they have a lot of family and friends in this area that are supporting her. She’s a great human being. A great contributor to society and we would not want to lose her. I want her to know that we care about her in this struggle and we’re all praying for her.”

“I always kind of felt I didn’t belong somewhere but now that I am back here, and I see everyone wearing these shirts to support me and people are messaging me and reaching out to me,” Johnston said. “People I haven’t talked to in years. It makes me feel like I do belong somewhere, and everything is okay.”

She said her family has been her rock through it all.

“I’d like to especially recognize my mom for taking care of me from the beginning of this journey. She has taken me to nearly every appointment, treatment, surgery, and more,” Johnston said. “She deserves all the credit, praise, and recognition for being such a selfless human being. I literally don’t know what I’d do without her.”

Johnston said the biggest struggle has been losing and trying to reestablish her identity.

“When you are stripped of your (physicality), your womanhood, you are only left with your internal power,” Johnston said. “I’ve had to focus on the inside rather than the outside. But in the process, I’ve recognized the strength I’ve always known to possess, but never really knew how to ignite. Cancer has already taken a lot from me, but it will not diminish my strength. If anything, it’s made me stronger.”

“Women in general who are dealing with cancer, they need all kinds of support. We need mental health support, fertility support and of course financial support,” she said. “I really encourage people to do their research. If my story impacts someone and they feel obligated to do something, look into those areas of people dealing with cancer and see how exactly they can help. And it doesn’t have to be just me. It can be anyone.”

“I look forward to seeing the woman I become over the next several months,” Johnston said. “It will be a metamorphosis, no doubt. But I’ll come back stronger than ever before with an unshakable confidence and zest for life.

Once Johnston finishes chemotherapy, she will go back for more scans to see what it did, then have surgery in July. She is also in grad school and set to finish her thesis this year and graduate in December. To find ways to help support Johnston, click here.

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