Local woman waging battle with cancer and the insurance industry | AspenTimes.com

Local woman waging battle with cancer and the insurance industry

Sarah S. Chung

Told by doctors that life with cancer is as distinctive as the individual who has it, Victoria Johnson decided to approach treatment with the same style and sense of humor that has always distinguished her life.

Known in Aspen circles as a woman of great taste in fashions, which she brought to eager buyers through her Low Maintenance Clothing Co., Johnson is earning a new reputation for strength and courage.

Looking good was Johnson’s profession from age 16 to 32. But the former model takes an even greater satisfaction in helping others step out in style.

Determined to provide women with access to “fabulous clothes at affordable prices,” Johnson arranged about 20 sales a year at various Aspen locations. In two-and-a-half years, her fan base grew to more than 1,800 women who anxiously awaited notice of the next sale event in their mail.

Living an admittedly charmed sort of life, the diagnosis of advanced breast cancer last July blindsided Johnson. It has since introduced her to the best in friends she thought she already knew well and a better nature in people in general.

“I can’t believe the number of people who have come forward to offer their help, support, prayers,” Johnson said. “You tend to see the absolute best in people and I think it’s both people showing you their better side and me overlooking the daily insensitivities of people.”

Since her diagnosis, Johnson finds strength in how her life has changed for the positive.

“I believe there is a reason for this, that something good will come of it – I have to,” Johnson said. “But the good days make up for the bad days. I encourage people to live as if they had survived cancer. Myself, I didn’t realize how special it was and how special it is.”

Due to a condition in her breast tissue that masks the early signs of cancer, the malignancy had spread to her liver by the time Johnson’s cancer was first detected.

Deciding on the most aggressive treatment available, Johnson immediately began sessions of chemotherapy. But the resistance she has encountered with her insurance company has been a source of anger and has also given Johnson another reason to beat her cancer.

If her cancer does not go into remission, doctors recommended Johnson undergo an experimental form of bone marrow transplant in order to allow her body to withstand a more intensive chemotherapy treatment.

Johnson is fortunate enough to have a matching marrow donor in a sibling. But her insurance company has deemed the procedure too experimental and will not help pay for any part of the surgery or subsequent care.

“How can lives be saved if insurance companies don’t cover what a doctor recommends?” Johnson said. “There are constantly new tests being conducted, but they’re not available to many because of the cost. I think it’s a major flaw in the system and if I get through this, that’s where my energy would go.”

In the meantime, her friends are throwing a fund-raising bash to make sure Johnson has every chance to beat her cancer and give the insurance industry a little hell after her treatment is completed.

The event, planned as a dinner, auction, and dancing extravaganza, will be held on Jan. 14. The auction will feature about 60 items that have been donated, including pieces of jewelry, restaurant dinners, and stays in locales like Austria, Cabo San Lucas and in area condos.

Each day can be a struggle, Johnson noted, but she takes time to count life’s blessings – both large and small – and tries to laugh whenever she can. And she marvels at a personal revelation – her own strength.

“Our bodies have an incredible ability to accept what they’re given,” Johnson said, “if you choose to survive. And I will fight this by every possible means – and I think I’ll beat it.”

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