It was 2014, and Steve Johnson, warmly known as Scuba Steve, was experiencing intense pain. “I would begin bleeding when I used the restroom, and it terrified me. The first time I saw it, I was like, something’s not right and I tried to ignore it. An advertisement came on the radio that said Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and that freaked me out.” He hesitated to make the appointment, but he knew it was the right thing to do.
A few weeks later, Steve visited his doctor for a routine exam and was told the issues were caused by hemorrhoids. During this time, he was also losing weight rapidly.
“A few months later, I’m at a festival in Wiggins with customers lined up, and my backside is just aching, like a 20 out of 10 pain. I’m bleeding like crazy and hurting so bad I can’t stand up. A few months later at another festival, I picked up a box and felt an electric jolt shoot through my abdomen down to my groin. So now it’s a 20 out of 10 pain on both sides of my body.” He worked for three more months until the pain was unbearable. He was referred to a GI specialist for a colonoscopy.
“The cancer is everywhere.”
Steve was just 31 years old when he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. “I woke up after the colonoscopy and saw my best friend crying, who does not cry. I’m the most emotional guy of all my friends. And I’m looking around like, what’s going on? Is it what I think it is?”
He was told he would only have six months to live since the cancer was in stage 3 and progressing quickly. Steve says, “I moved into fight mode, like who can save me, what can we do? I drove around, reminiscing about my favorite school, Orange Grove Elementary. I’m thinking about the good times. Then my grandmother called, and I had to pull over because she said, ‘Is it bad?’, And I couldn’t get a word out.”
“I’m going to save you.”
Steve was referred to Memorial Health System Oncologist Dr. Allison Wall. “All my friends and I piled into the exam room, and Dr. Wall said, ‘I’m going to save you.’ It was the best thing I had heard. It wasn’t like the death sentence I got at another facility. When we got here, it was like there was hope.”
He began radiation and chemotherapy. “It was brutal. It got to the point where my friends were carrying me to the car, they were carrying me to my bed, they’re carrying me to the couch.” It took two months for Steve to heal properly following the treatment since he experienced severe burning and blistering throughout his body.
Steve had surgery to remove the tumor shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, he experienced side effects from the surgery that very few people have. His friends were there to support him through his most difficult days yet.
“I’ve got this new body.”
Now, he had a colostomy bag and had to get used to a new way of using the restroom. “I’ve got this new body. It took a long time for me to learn it and be okay with it. I had a lot of bad instances with it [the colostomy bag], but I overcame that.”
Steve then had six months of IV chemotherapy. “You’re watching all these people around you, and my job in this whole process was to make other people laugh and uplift people when I’m sick as a dog. It became really tough because I was sick. I watched a lot of people pass away, a few that I thought were getting better. That scared me and had me asking myself if I was getting any better.”
“She turned my mindset around.”
He rested for a few months and then had his final surgery for the reversal of the colostomy bag. “It’s pretty disastrous for a long time. You’re scared to go in public, you’re scared to eat in public, you’re scared to go anywhere until your body adapts. And I never thought it would.”
During this process, Steve says Dr. Wall was an “angel”. He adds, “There were times when radiation had me down because I was so burned on so many parts of my body. I would text [Dr. Wall] and she would say, ‘I’m about to call in that prescription for you’. The instant care she would give you is amazing. She turned my mindset around. You know, I had the odds stacked against me, and she came along and brought a positivity that matched my own. Dr. Krentel was really good at the radiation, really good with me. His staff was second to none.”
Finding strength in friendship
When asked where he gets his strength, Steve shares, “I have always been blessed with the best group of best friends. That’s the secret to who I am, the success that I’ve had, and my journey. My best friends have made it happen because they’ve got my back.” He also gets hope from maintaining a positive mindset through the challenges. “Since I was a kid, I’ve always had a positive mindset that something great is going to happen. I’ve never gotten down, I’ve never quit, never given up. My drive has always been excellent. You know, with a group of best friends around me taking care of me, I just couldn’t lose.”
Steve’s challenge to others
“I was scared to even walk into the doctor’s office. I would say to that person who is worried about getting screened or who is feeling similar symptoms, to catch it early before you go through what I went through. I want you to catch this as early as you can. Make that call and just get checked for peace of mind.”
Thank you for sharing your story, Steve, and thank you for trusting Memorial with your care.