Elm Grove Middle School principal Terrie Johnson sees support from staff as she fights cancer
With one word, Terrie Johnson's life changed forever.
Johnson, principal of Elm Grove Middle School, received a phone call Aug. 20 with test results from a previous appointment. In a moment she will never forget, her doctor broke the news...She had breast cancer.
The diagnosis came as a shock, one she simply just couldn't believe. In a way, Johnson knew there had to be a mistake.
“Cancer didn't run in my family,” she said. “I certainly didn't expect it to start with me.”
On that day, Johnson said she came face-to-face with her own mortality. She then had to gather the courage to share the news with her faculty, a task she knew would be difficult.
“Other than my own family, I didn't tell anyone until I could stand in front of my faculty and tell them,” she said. “I didn't want my faculty to find out by word of mouth. I wanted them to hear it from me.”
Kelly Kruithof, a sixth grade science teacher, remembers Johnson’s announcement so vividly. As Johnson spoke, Kruithof wept, reliving her own nightmare all over again.
“I don't want anyone to have to go through what I've been through,” Kruithof said. “She is not only my boss, but someone I admire and our leader. It was very difficult for me to hear.”
Kruithof, a breast cancer survivor, received a similar phone call not once, but twice. The first call came while she was teaching physical education at Benton Middle School in 2006.
The second came four years later while vacationing at Disney Land in California. Though life changing, Kruithof said she was determined to survive.
“Cancer did not get me down or steal my smile and it's not going to,” Kruithof said.
Johnson has already been through surgery and will start chemotherapy in the coming weeks. Kruithof hopes that her experience with cancer will provide some comfort for her friend and boss through this stressful time.
“God blessed me. He didn't give me a disease, he blessed me with this to help someone else,” Kruithof said. “If she is the only person I help, it was well worth it. My faith is that strong.”
Johnson said school officials will step in to take over her day-to-day responsibilities at the school. However, she said her heart will always be with her students and faculty.
“As much anxiety as I have about surgery and treatment, I dread not being here every day,” Johnson said. “I love starting my day here. I want to be as much a part of this school and know what's going on while I'm out.”
Johnson is far from alone in her battle with breast cancer. She said the love and support from her family and school help calm her unsettled nerves.
“They make me feel strong,” she said. “Elm Grove Eagles are fighters. They are rising to the challenge like they always do.”
The display of support since her diagnosis has been overwhelming, Johnson said. A group from Elm Grove participated in this year’s Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure event in Bossier City.
Johnson said while she regularly participates in the event, the tables were turned this year. Racing beside her were a flock of Eagles from her Elm Grove family, including Kruithof.
“That kind of display of support is emotionally overwhelming,” Johnson said. “We say to each other all the time that we have each others backs, but that was a true display of that kind of support.”
The American Cancer Society reports that one in eight U.S. women are at risk for developing breast cancer over the course of a lifetime. Both Johnson and Kruithof said it's crucial for women to have routine breast examinations or to check themselves regularly.
Johnson said she is at peace with her decision to have surgery and undergo treatment. She credits a strong support system and faith in God for helping her through this next chapter in her life.
“It's an anxious time and it's a fearful time, but the peace of God gives me the strength and knowledge that he will get me through this,” she said.
Johnson added that she is already looking forward to her next breast cancer run in February.
“I should be back to full strength by then,” she said with a smile.