We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Ritchie Johnson. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Ritchie below.
Ritchie, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. If you had a defining moment that you feel really changed the trajectory of your career, we’d love to hear the story and details.
As a child, I always enjoyed taking care of people and knew that when I grew up, I wanted to become a nurse or physician. Since I was married and had small children, choosing nursing as my career would allow me to care for my family and successfully complete all required coursework. I became a registered nurse in 1972 and I have enjoyed every moment. For many years, I cared for people that I did not know, however in 2011, my life changed. My youngest son, Chris was diagnosed at the young age of 38 with a rare form of kidney cancer called renal medullary carcinoma (RMC). My world changed and so did my career. Ultimately, after 40 plus years caring for strangers at all hours of the day or night; I now had to care for my adult son. I not only was his mother but became his advocate and personal nurse. God had prepared me for all these years so that I could make sure that my son received the best care during his illness.
Ritchie, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I am a registered nurse by profession. I received my bachelor’s degree in nursing from Texas Woman’s University in Denton,Texas and my master’s degree in business from California Health Science in Utah. I am a mother of two sons and a grandmother of five. In 2011, my youngest son, Chris, was diagnosed with a rare and often fatal form of kidney cancer. I placed my career on hold so that I could adequately care for him. For 15 months I cared for my son; never leaving his side. When he passed at the young age of 39, my world crumbled. I was broken in every sense of the word. After Chris’s death, I knew that I had to fulfill his vision of creating RMC awareness so others would not have to go through what he and our family went through. In April 2013, I turned my pain into purpose by founding the Chris “CJ” Johnson Foundation, Inc. in memory of Chris. In 2018, I became a published author of “Mama, I’m Tired: A Mother’s Journey Through Her Son’s Cancer Battle with Renal Medullary Carcinoma.” Our foundation is a global organization offering support to patients diagnosed with RMC in Greece, Nigeria, Brazil, Colombia and of course the United States. Because of our advocacy efforts through awareness, education and research, we now have several clinical trials specifically for patients with RMC at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. My son’s legacy continues to live through The Chris “CJ” Johnson Foundation, Inc.
If you could go back, would you choose the same profession, specialty, etc.?
If I had to do it all over again, I would definitely become a nurse. From a very young age I knew that helping others was my calling. You don’t simply become a nurse because you’re good at it; you become a nurse because you want to help people. I want to be that healing force as a nurse where you make a difference for the better in people’s lives. To see someone overcome barriers or obstacles by beating the odds is self-gratification. Being a nurse is not just going to work, it requires compassion, patience, empathy and flexibility.
Let’s talk about resilience next – do you have a story you can share with us?
My nursing background has been instrumental in being an advocate for patients diagnosed with RMC and their families. In 2019, I met a young couple from New Jersey at our Keepin’ It Renal Run/Walk. The young man had been diagnosed with RMC a couple of years earlier. They would travel back and forth to Houston for his cancer treatment. Over the course of a year, we became very close and would get together when they visited Houston. In 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he and his wife were in Houston to receive treatment. While here, his condition began to deteriorate, and his wife became distraught. No other family members were able to travel from their state due to the strict traveling guidelines in place. This young lady became emotional due to her husband’s health rapidly declining and did not need to be alone. I was given permission to enter the hospital to be with them. I literally had to prepare myself for the worst and become a support person for the wife. This scenario was extremely difficult for me because during this time, I relived everything that I had gone through with my son. I had to put my emotions aside and be strong for her. I was able to comfort her and remained with her until her husband transitioned. My presence allowed her to relax and focus on her husband at the time that mattered the most.
- Website: https://chrisjohnsonfoundation.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rmc2011
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Chris-CJ-Johnson-Foundation