Pasco father of 8 battling rare cancer

Herald staff writerOctober 20, 2013 

Nathan Johnson Family

Father of eight, Nathan Johnson of Pasco is fighting a rare cancer. He’s shown here with his family in March at Chiawana Park with his wife, Christina; Peter, 5 months; clockwise, Norah, 2, Eliza, 5, Derek, 7, Emma, 12, Michael, 14, Megan, 15, and Merian, 10.

COURTESY SONJA YEARSLEY

A Pasco father of eight says he's going to miss seeing the Canada geese flying in crisp Tri-City skies this fall.

"I'm going to miss getting ready for Halloween with my kids and going trick-or-treating and carving pumpkins and all that stuff," Nathan Johnson said.

Fighting a rare cancer has been tough on Johnson. But the disease has also brought blessings, he said.

"Roller coaster is probably an overused metaphor, but it really feels that way," he told the Herald in a phone interview from a Seattle hospital. "There's been a lot of positives that have come out of this. I had no idea we had so many friends. They really stepped up to the plate for us."

Johnson, 39, is fighting a non-Hodgkin cancer called T-cell lymphoma.

Diagnosed in February, he underwent a bone marrow transplant Sept. 19 at the University of Washington Medical Center. Johnson, one of 12 children, found a bone marrow match in his youngest brother.

The graphic designer for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland may be released from the hospital soon, but will have to stay in Seattle until after Christmas because he is required to be within 20 minutes of the hospital.

His prognosis is "not great," despite the transplant, he said. Some of the cancerous T-cells in his lymph nodes migrated into his cerebral spinal fluid, so he is still undergoing radiation treatment and chemotherapy.

"There's not a lot they can do about that," he said. "There's a chance my spinal fluid will be free of cancer from the last radiation treatment, but that's not what they expect."

Making the situation tougher has been not seeing his older children for a month.

But friends and family have stepped into help out throughout the ordeal.

His youngest son Peter, 1, is staying with Johnson and his wife, Christina, in Seattle.

But the kids' grandmothers, one of whom comes in from Spokane and the other in Pasco, split time taking care of the other children: Megan, 16; Michael, 15; Emma, 13; Merian, 11; Derek, 7; Eliza, 6; and Norah, 3.

The support from others also has kept Christina Johnson from becoming a "basket case," she said.

"It's almost a tangible feeling," she said. "I can really feel the prayers of others sustaining our family."

But the support doesn't stop with prayers and well wishes. A friend from work organized a fundraiser in February, while the Johnsons' church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Pasco, had a yard sale over the summer to help the family.

"It's been a real blessing," Nathan Johnson said. "This is a really expensive thing to go through. We haven't really needed to worry about money because of all the people who have offered to help us."

To help raise money for the Johnsons, his church will play host to another fundraiser from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 2. The event will include a silent auction with more than 100 items, as well as chili and cinnamon buns for refreshments.

People also can donate on the Internet at gfwd.at/1fVLUF9. "He's been out of work for a while," said event organizer Donna Tracy. "The bills are piling up."

Tracy is a family friend and knows Nathan from the paintings he has done for The Arc of the Tri-Cities, where Tracy is advocacy and recreation manager.

"He's been faithful to The Arc," she said. "When I heard it was stage 4 (lymphoma), I realized they would need extra money."

Tracy hopes to raise $10,000 at the event.

Nathan Johnson said he won't be able to make it back for the fundraiser. But he can feel the support.

"Spiritually, it's given me a lot of hope to know that there are so many people praying for me," he said.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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