Participant Profile: Colleen Johnson

Colleen Johnson’s journey from a self-described “coach potato” to a marathon-runner all began with a diagnosis of a rare and aggressive form of endometrial cancer.CASA Half Marathon 2

It was then that Colleen, a retired University of Memphis professor, turned to Linda Smiley, MD, FACOG, a gynecologic oncologist. Colleen’s two-pound, “Grade 3” tumor was the size of a cantaloupe and considered “high risk”. This type of cancer required a comprehensive treatment plan, including an aggressive combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and systematic, hormonal therapy.

Colleen knew the 5-year survival rate for women with her aggressive stage of cancer was only 20%, but she would not let the numbers dampen her fighting spirit. “Those are NOT numbers to live by,” said Colleen, “And I did NOT want to die.” She knew she needed to do everything possible to have a chance of beating cancer.

She began educating herself on ways to improve her prognosis. Soon, she discovered a large body of research demonstrating that maintaining a healthy lifestyle and engaging in regular, vigorous exercise can actually slow the return of cancer in many patients studied. According to Colleen, “Losing weight – for somebody who had been obese all their adult life – is a very difficult thing to do.  At my max weight I was 242 pounds.” But with the help of nutritionist Anita Vincent, Colleen set out to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle. She started walking, then running, and the first day that she was able to run 1/8 of mile she said she “couldn’t have been happier if she had won the Boston Marathon.” That was when she decided to take up distance running.

Colleen ran her first 5K only eleven months after surgery and only six months after completing radiation therapy at West Cancer Center.

“I chose running as my exercise of choice because signing up for a race like West FIGHT ON gave me tangible goals to work towards as I continue to fight to keep my cancer from coming back.”

At the age of 61 – and in the four and a half years since her cancer diagnosis – Colleen has successfully completed ten full marathons, 29 half marathons, and seven ultra-marathons including an ultra with a distance over 100 miles. In 2016 she was one of only seven women over the age of sixty to complete a race of 100 miles or more. Not only is she a proud member of this elite group of runners but she is the ONLY cancer survivor among these seven women.

“I eventually lost about 100 pounds from my peak weight. My weight loss coupled with my long distance running has brought my blood pressure down and has totally reversed my type 2 diabetes. And, most important of all, I am now 4 ½ years cancer free.”

This year she will be running 105 miles, the equivalent of four marathons at A Race for the Ages in Manchester, TN just a mere twelve days before participating in West FIGHT ON event this September. Colleen WFO 16

Colleen plans on running at West FIGHT ON on September 16, 2017 at Shelby Farms Park as a celebration of her cancer journey. West FIGHT ON raises funds for the University of Tennessee / West Institute for Cancer Research, the non-profit, fundraising arm of West Cancer Center. Funds are used for discovery, innovation and advancement in the field of adult cancer research and patient education, care and support.

“I Fight On for the 10,970 ladies who will DIE of endometrial cancer in 2017!” says Colleen. When she runs she wears a shirt that says “From cancer to a marathon: Fighting my cancer one mile at a time”on the front and “In memory of the 10,970 ladies who will die this year of endometrial cancer” on the back. She says she not only runs for every single one of those women on the back of her shirt, but she runs to keep herself off of it.

Join Colleen and over 2,000 others from the Mid-South in the fight against cancer by registering for West FIGHT ON at Whether you cycle, run, walk or simply cheer on our participants you are showing your support for all those whose lives have been touched by cancer.