Joy Johnston of Olympia has spent the past year being treated for breast cancer. She’s gone through chemotherapy, radiation and a double mastectomy.
Now she’s ready to return to a life that’s about more than just survival.
She also is a belly dancer, a belly dance teacher, a wife and the mother of two children, ages 1 and 4.
On top of all that, these days Johnston aims to help other patients.
She has been working to raise money for the Healing Garden planned for Providence St. Peter Hospital. Sunday she’ll perform in “Dances of Hope and Healing,” a benefit show she organized.
Johnston will dance alone and with her dance troupes, Amirat Dance Co. and Amira’s Dancers. The benefit will also feature other solo belly dancers and troupes, including Carol Thuy Thanh Bui, Mas Uda and Mellilah & the New Moon, as well as flamenco by Cuadro Azahares and music by Kristen Rubis, who plays crystal singing bowls.
Work recently began on The Healing Garden, which will be on a rooftop outside the inpatient oncology unit and can be used by all patients and staff. It’s expected to open in mid-August. The idea behind the garden is to offer those who are hospitalized a quiet and natural place to be.
“When you’re going through the cancer treatment, it’s nice that there are these reminders of why you are going through this,” she said. “For me, it was first so I could stick around and be there for my kids, but also, there’s a lot of beauty in this world. … There’s a lot to live for.”
Staff, patients and visitors have been talking about the idea of a garden for nearly 10 years, said Peter Brennan, executive director of the Providence St. Peter Foundation.
“Patients deserve a chance to get away from such a sterile environment,” oncology nurse Lea Frank said on the hospital’s website. “They need a chance to remember they are not just a room number, not just a diagnosis.”
For Johnston, this project is a way to keep her focus on the positive during a challenging time in her journey with cancer.
“It’s not unusual for people to go through depression after going through treatment,” she said. “Friends and family are really there for you as you’re going through it. And then you’re done, and they’re ready to move on.
“I’m still missing my hair. I lost my breasts. I still have to pick up the pieces of my life. As much as I’m grateful to be alive, there is still a lot to mentally process.
“Doing this show has been so helpful. I feel like I have a reason that I’ve made it through all of the cancer treatment.”
It’s also a way to express her appreciation to the hospital for the care she received — and a way to share her passion with her new community.
Johnston moved to Olympia in 2013. She had taught belly dance in Seattle for many years and continued to teach there after she moved, stopping only when chemotherapy made her too ill to continue.
When she began planning the benefit, she reached out to the dancers she worked with and asked them to perform.
All of them agreed, she said.
Johnston started belly dancing 20 years ago on a whim and wound up sticking with it and becoming a teacher, largely because she so loved the community of dancers.
“Seattle is not a huge city, but you can go many, many days without ever running into somebody you know,” she said. “Being a part of this community made me feel like I fit in.
“Twenty years ago was before I met my husband, before I had my children, and obviously before going through breast cancer, and the belly dance community has been by my side that entire time.”