Neighbors team up to help coach stricken with cancer
With four athletically inclined children, it didn’t take Kirk Johnson long to become a part of the local sports scene after the family moved to De Soto in November 2003.
“It was pretty much the first day we moved here,” he said. “We were at a game, and a woman said she didn’t know much about coaching and said would anybody help. I said sure.”
Since then, Johnson has coached basketball and football teams on which his 15-year-old son, Joey, 12-year-old twins Justine and Jason, and 9-year-old daughter Julia played.
He’s coached 29 youth teams in different sports in the five years he’s been in De Soto.
“He’s been very influential in the lives of kids,” said friend John Pruss. “There are a lot of parents who really do appreciate the improvement he made in the athletic skills of their children.”
Pruss said Johnson was able to teach what he learned as an athlete at Pike Valley High School in central Kansas. He received a track scholarship to Fort Hays State University and earned a spot on the school’s football team as a walk-on.
Parents also enjoyed that Johnson taught those skills through positive feedback, Pruss said.
Life plan rewritten
Johnson said he had the life he dreamed of just two years after the moved to De Soto: a loving family, a beautiful home in De Soto’s new Timber Lakes addition, respect of the community and a successful home remodeling business.
But in May 2006, an unexpected diagnosis of colon cancer started to rewrite the script of Johnson’s life.
“I was busy raising my kids, and then I got that news,” he said. “My dad had prostate cancer, but there was nothing like colon cancer in my family before.”
His father did provide an example of someone successfully battling cancer through surgery and chemotherapy, Johnson said.
Johnson did the same with his own surgery in December 2006 and chemotherapy treatments through February 2007. He was later declared cancer free.
Then, routine follow-up tests last summer indicated the cancer had returned. This month he was told his prognosis wasn’t good.
“Doctors say six months to a year,” Johnson said. “When I heard that, I automatically thought a year. We’re going to beat it. We’re not even in the second half yet. It’s early in the first quarter.”
With that in mind, Johnson and his wife, Barb, traveled last week to Cleveland to get a second opinion on treatment options. Specialists there agreed that the chemotherapy treatment local doctors had recommended was appropriate but also suggested radiation treatment could be beneficial.
The two teams of doctors are now trying to coordinate a treatment plan, Johnson said.
Johnson had medical insurance when he underwent treatment two years ago, but he couldn’t work for the nine months during chemotherapy.
The prolonged layoff wiped out the couple’s savings, Barb Johnson said. Fundraisers in De Soto, Kirk Johnson’s hometown of Scandia and the Holy Family Catholic Church in Eudora, which the family attends, helped the family through, she said.
Financial uncertainty returned with the cancer. Johnson hasn’t worked in recent weeks as he and his family started preparing for his treatments, and he knows he will only be able to manage the smallest jobs once chemotherapy starts. Johnson still has health coverage, but he never purchased life insurance.
Once again, the community has stepped up to help. About 20 people whose lives have been touched by Johnson through his involvement with youths have formed the Kirk Johnson Can Do Support Group to help the Johnsons financially, said Pruss, one of its organizers.
The Can Do group has already organized several fundraisers and have started a fund in the Johnson’s name. One goal is to help the family with day-to-day living expenses. The long-term goal is to pay off their mortgage.
Johnson said he was overwhelmed by the generosity. “It’s really amazing what they want to do for us,” he said.
Fundraisers for family
Fundraisers to benefit Kirk Johnson include De Soto Pizza Hut Johnson Family Day on Sunday, in which 20 percent of all orders will be donated to the Kirk Johnson Family Fund; a golf tournament Nov. 15 at Dub’s Dread Golf Club in Kansas City, Kan.; a third- through eighth-grade football skills contest starting at 11 a.m. Nov. 16 and tentatively scheduled for the De Soto High School stadium; and a blues and barbecue dance and silent auction from 5 p.m. to midnight Nov. 22 at the De Soto VFW Post.
For more information on the events, call John Pruss at (913) 583-3355 or Monte Freeman at (913) 583-1789.
Contributions to the Kirk Johnson Family Fund can be made to the De Soto Team Bank, care of Michele Daniels, 43102 W. Commerce Drive, Suite A, De Soto, KS 66018.