The following story is from an interview with Fred Bannister, a patient at PSCC.
Even though his age was a hurdle to receiving a stem cell transplant at The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Dr. Johnston made sure her protocol was air tight to ensure he’d meet all the criteria necessary.
"Driving from Bellingham to Edmonds to get the best cancer care is nothing. I'd fly from San Francisco to see Dr. Johnston."
It was spring of 2001. Fred Bannister, a patient at Puget Sound Cancer Centers, was diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma and given 18 months to live. "It was blind luck that I was referred to Dr. Johnston. She was familiar with this cancer and the latest treatments from her time at the Duke University Medical Center. She did everything from take on my insurance company to getting me a stem cell transplant, in spite of my age."
"I remember when I first started my treatment. Almost immediately my body started shutting down. My vital signs went haywire. She analyzed the situation perfectly and her calm, competence really came through. She figured out the balance I needed and we were able to keep up with the treatments."
When Fred started his treatment, Dr. Johnston was working at a different facility. But when she moved to PSCC, Fred and his wife happily followed. "When she told us she was moving to a place where they focused just on cancer, it made perfect sense. We respected the fact that she wanted to be around more colleagues for collaboration. She believes that this is the way cancer treatment should be practiced. We would have paid out of our own pocket to stay with Dr. Johnston."
Dr. Johnston was very familiar with this cancer and the drugs used to treat it. She was also aware that it was common for patients to be in remission for a while, but then come out of it. And that's exactly what happened to Fred. "Dr. Johnston was always on top of my situation," Fred stated. "She immediately was in touch with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center to get me in line for a stem cell transplant. And when it seemed that my age would be a hurdle to get this treatment, she made sure that her protocol would allow a stem cell treatment if it was needed."
From the beginning Fred and his wife were impressed with Dr. Johnston's approach. "One of the first things she wanted to know was what kind of a communications style we wanted," Fred said. "She's very sensitive about treating every one of her patients in a way that suits them. She doesn't just treat the body; she also treats the heart and the mind."
Fred continued, "I told her I wanted the facts so I could be ready for what was ahead. So she told me, 'You'll reach a point where you're not going to like me for putting you through this.' And it was true. During my fourth treatment, it started getting bad. She said, 'I told you so. As crummy as you feel, this is normal. By the way, now that you've survived this, can I have other patients talk to you?'"
"I remember early on when Dr. Johnston asked my wife and me if we wanted to get a second opinion on how to approach my cancer diagnosis," Fred remarked. "We told her that when you believe you're getting the best treatment anywhere in the world, why would you keep looking?"
"It's been seven years since the diagnosis and I honestly think that if I'd gone to a different doctor, I wouldn't be here. Every day is a gift."