By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Friends rally around Sierra Johnson in her leukemia battle
Sierra Johnson is shown with her family. - photo by Photo Contributed
Sierra Johnson, a 2008 graduate of Sierra High School who is now a sophomore at California State University Sacramento, has been one fierce fighter on the athletic field all her life.

Her sports accomplishments and numerous awards attest to that. She was a four-year varsity volleyball player. She was captain of the JV and varsity teams throughout her four years of soccer. And she won several team awards for these sports including the Mikey Thompson Character Award. She not only played for her school; she was also in competitive teams outsider of Sierra High. Little wonder then that before her graduation, her alma mater bestowed upon her the distinct honor of Senior Female Athlete of the Year.

The high regard she has earned through all these years is reflected in her old soccer team’s gesture of dedicating the 2010 season in her honor.

She also served in leadership for 4 years.

But none of the numerous challenges she faced in various athletic fields with fierce determination compares to the battle she is waging right now. Diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, just before Thanksgiving last year, the kinesthesiology major has met with some major medical challenges in her treatment and is tentatively scheduled to receive bone marrow transplant late in April at Oakland Children’s Hospital – that is, barring no other unforeseen side effects.

“Unfortunately, she suffered significant side effects due to intense chemotherapy, including profound neurologic changes,” explained close family friend Lori Shutler.

“She is currently quite ill and they don’t know how long her recovery will take, so the transplant may have to be postponed until her body is healthy enough to handle the preparation and procedure of this treatment,” Shutler said, relaying information provided to her by Johnson’s parents, Tammy and Scott Johnson.

Fortunately for the Johnsons, they have a wealth of friends throughout the area, many of them in the sports community particularly in volleyball and soccer in which the athletic family are very well known. This formidable and fiercely loyal army of friends is now putting together a fund-raiser to help the 20-year-old Johnson and her family in her continuing fight against the disease. This Fagundes Meats-catered drive-thru dinner, to be held Friday, April 16, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Sierra High parking lot for $12, is being spearheaded by Laura Conway, a veteran of this type of fund-raising effort.

Shutler said that while the Sac State sophomore had a good initial response to the ALL treatment, it was later discovered that “she has a specific chromosomal abnormality associated with ALL known as the Philadelphia chromosome.” That’s what makes Johnson’s disease a “particularly aggressive type of ALL which is more difficult to treat, and is associated with a higher relapse rate than other types of ALL,” added Shutler.

Because of that, they will have to wait until Johnson, who was involved in leadership as well throughout her years at Sierra, is well enough for her body to handle the bone marrow transplant. A six- to eight-week hospital stay is expected following the transplant. She has to be within 30-minutes drive to the Oakland Children’s Hospital for that procedure so she will be staying in a house in Oakland for transplant patients.

Johnson is the middle child of Tammy and Scott Johnson. Older daughter Trinity is a volleyball coach at Sierra high. Youngest child Hunter is a seventh grader at Brock Elliott Elementary. The entire family is well known in the community, especially in athletic circles. They have been actively involved in the community, and are heavily involved in sports.

Tammy Johnson is currently on leave from her job to be with her daughter. Since November, she has been by her daughter’s side at the hospital 50 percent of the time. Her husband also tries to stay at the hospital overnight to give his wife some relief. Their daughter has been in the hospital’s intensive care a couple of times recently, driving home the grim reality that the Sierra High graduate, who dreams of becoming a P.E. teacher someday, is facing a serious battle for the long haul.

Sierra’s Angels
to Sierra’s rescue

The group that has stepped forward to assist the Johnson family for organizing the drive-thru dinner fund-raiser is calling itself Sierra’s Angels. For a donation of $12, one can order a dinner consisting of tri-tip, chicken, potato salad, and rolls with butter prepared by Fagundes Meats and Catering. All proceeds will go to help Sierra Johnson’s fight against ALL.

Tickets have to be ordered by Wednesday, April 14. For more information or to purchase a ticket, call any of the following: Lori Konecny at 825-0905; Laura Conway at 402-4424; Greg Leland at 858-7410 ext. 57419; or Lori Mackey at 239-4590.

There will also be a drawing along with the drive-thru dinner. Raffle tickets will be available for the drawing to be held the same day at the parking lot. The organizers are looking for more prize donors. Anyone wishing to help can call any of the above phone numbers.

Those who will be at the drive-thru dinner will be able to pinpoint the members of the Sierra’s Angels. They will be in color-coded T-shirts with the colors representing the different types of cancer. Several will be wearing orange T-shirts, and that’s simply because that happens to be Sierra Johnson’s favorite color.

Helping the Sierra’s Angels in the drive-thru dinner fund-raiser are Sierra High’s leadership and soccer players.

Shutler said that while Sierra Johnson’s goal is to pursue a career as a physical education teacher, her experience with ALL has made her more interested in social work.

“She’s quite a fighter for what she’s going through. I’m very impressed by the maturity she has shown in fighting this. She’s fighting but she does not complain. She’s really been through a lot, more than what most people in a lifetime go through,” she said.