By Ariele Vaccaro
Even after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Milwaukee resident and single mom of four adult children Khasema Johnson never felt bad for herself.
“I never had a why moment,” Johnson said. “God put me through this to help someone else get through it.”
During a regular breast self-exam, Johnson discovered a lump. On Sept. 14, 2013 — just after her 40th birthday — she found out she had stage 2 breast cancer.
She didn’t have insurance, but was able to seek out treatment through Wisconsin’s Well Woman program, which allows uninsured women diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer to utilize Medicaid funding.
Through her struggle with the disease, Johnson found strength she didn’t know she had. By Oct. 4 of the following year, Johnson was cancer free.
But Johnson didn’t leave the cancer awareness community after finding out she’d defeated the disease.
Now, she uses the same infectious positivity that got her through her battle to help other women through their own.
“I love doing what I do,” said Johnson.
Among many titles, Johnson holds that of Kohl’s conversation leader. She creates a welcoming environment for women — and men, who can also be diagnosed with breast cancer — to freely discuss the disease and its effects on their lives.
It’s a partnership initiative between Kohl’s and Susan G. Komen for the Cure called Conversations for the Cure.
Women from all over southeastern Wisconsin gather to talk about their experiences.
More than thirty conversations are yet to take place this year and will be hosted at a variety of locations. During October — breast cancer awareness month — there will be 26 conversations, many taking place at Mayfair Mall.
Johnson will be one of the women leading the conversation at those very talks.
There, she listens, speaks, and encourages women to check their breast health often by performing self-exams, visiting the doctor for regular check-ups, and getting mammograms.
She noted that many women have expressed fear of undergoing a mammogram.
But Johnson assures that they can take only a few minutes, and that “those three minutes could save your life.”
Her second title: founder of Pink Punchers — a workout community that aims to encourage African-American women to exercise.
The women who join the Pink Punchers break a sweat to catchy salsa tunes during Zumba and get serious during the group’s workout bootcamp.
Johnson contends that many African-American men and women aren’t getting the exercise they need.
“We don’t do that enough, especially in the Black community,” she said.
Johnson’s third title might be the first of its kind. As she puts it, she’s somewhat of a backdoor counselor.
On social media outlets like Facebook, she listens and talks to women.
Though she gives out no medical advice, she offers personal experience and positivity for women in search of support. She has even accompanied women to the doctor’s office.
Though the women that Johnson talks to may be fighting the greatest battle they’ve ever been faced with, the Milwaukee mom wants women to know a message of hope: “Just because you get diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s not a death sentence.”
She emphasizes preventative measures and encourages women — and men, who can also suffer from breast cancer — to use every resource available to them and be “the ambassadors of their own bodies.