Jhett Johnson overcomes cancer, back on rodeo circuit
BY ED GODFREY
Doctors told Jhett Johnson that he might be dead in two years.
At the time, Johnson was just 24 and engaged to be married. A diagnosis of testicular cancer was the last thing he expected to hear.
And it was a very aggressive kind of cancer, one that doctors told Johnson was the No. 1 cancer killer of men his age.
“It was just a huge shock,” Johnson said. “At that time in my life, I was consumed by rodeo. In the blink of an eye it made me realize there is more to life than rodeo. It made me realize how quickly you could lose everything.”
Johnson, of Casper, Wyo., is a four-time qualifier to the National Finals Rodeo. He is in Oklahoma City this weekend to compete in the Dodge National Circuit Finals.
A former rodeo cowboy for the college teams at Northwestern Oklahoma State University and Oklahoma Panhandle State University, Johnson qualified to the National Circuit Finals by being the season champion in team roping in the Mountain Circuit, which covers Wyoming and Montana.
In fact, the state of Wyoming is one of Johnson’s sponsors. Johnson wants to make another NFR and is currently 11th in the standings this season. He dreams of being a world champion.
But he already has earned his biggest victory. He beat cancer.
His life changed forever on an October day in 1995. Johnson was simply washing his horse when he doubled over in pain.
“You couldn’t have kicked me any harder and it couldn’t have hurt any worse,” he said. “It just dropped me.”
The pain went away but returned in two weeks and lasted longer. Johnson’s doctor first thought he had an infection, but an ultrasound discovered the cancer.
Surgeons removed one of Johnson’s testicles the very next day. Then Johnson was given the option of how to proceed next: radiation, chemotherapy or surgery to remove lymph nodes in his back.
He opted for the surgery even though his doctor compared it to gutting a deer. Surgeons removed the lymph nodes which filtered blood from the testicle. None were cancerous.
At the time, doctors were unsure if Johnson could have children. Fifteen years later, he and his wife, Jenny, who he met in college at Panhandle State, have three kids.
At autograph sessions, fans who know he is a cancer survivor often want to talk about a loved one battling the disease.
“I survived it and my life is exactly going the direction I want it,” Johnson said. “I know it doesn’t work out that way for everybody, but just because you are diagnosed (with cancer) doesn’t mean your dead.
“It changed me. It made me realize life can end and does end, and I appreciate it every day.”