We had the good fortune of connecting with Ritchie Johnson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ritchie, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Approximately 8 years ago my youngest son, Chris was diagnosed with renal medullary carcinoma (RMC). Then, 15 months later, he was dead from this rare, aggressive and incurable kidney cancer that attacks the bodies of individuals with sickle cell trait. During our 15 month journey, I placed my nearly 40-year career as a registered nurse on hold while Chris was undergoing treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center. There was very little information available about RMC and the articles that we did find on the Internet were devastating; giving us little hope. Chris was determined to be an advocate, but became tired due to the progression of the disease and ultimately succumbed to RMC. After my son’s illness, I did not have the heart nor stamina to go back to work. I was determined to turn my grief into a vehicle of hope for individuals diagnosed with RMC. I began the process of establishing a nonprofit foundation in 2013, honoring my son’s desire to fill gaps in research funding and raise awareness of this little-understood disease that was affecting adolescents and young adults with sickle cell trait. In April 2013, the Chris “CJ” Johnson Foundation Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit organization was formed. The Chris “CJ” Johnson Foundation has been a catalyst for global awareness as well as funding to support key research at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and provide financial support to RMC patients. I am proud to say that Dr. Nizar Tannir, professor and chair ad interim, Genitourinary Medical Oncology and Dr. Pavlos Msaouel, assistant professor, Genitourinary Medical Oncology at MD Anderson have launched a research program dedicated to understanding and developing therapies for RMC patients. According to Dr. Msaouel, progress in both research and therapy would have been much slower if it were not for the efforts of the Chris “CJ” Johnson Foundation. Despite the foundation’s many success, we still have a long journey ahead of us. Healthcare disparities make it difficult for people to have access to quality care and funding for rare diseases remains scarce. I find peace in helping others. I authored a book, “Mama I’m Tired”, A Mother’s Journey Through Her Son’s Cancer Battle With Renal Medullary Carcinoma. It is my desire to bridge the gap so that others will have the support and information that is so desperately needed. I will continue this fight so that others may live!
What should our readers know about your business?
I have been a registered nurse since 1972. Nursing was my dream job from a very early age. For many years I cared for people that I did not know. Nursing was my passion. Our lives changed in a matter of seconds when we received the news that Chris had a rare, aggressive and often fatal form of kidney cancer.
While caring for him, I wore many hats. I was not only his mother, but also his advocate, caregiver, and gatekeeper. Little did I know that when I chose Nursing as my career, God was ultimately preparing me to care for my adult son. I was taken out of my comfort zone by having to now care for my son who was diagnosed with a catastrophic illness. My emotions were like a roller coaster; this was my baby son fighting for his life. When Chris passed, I knew that I had to honor his wishes by organizing a foundation that would raise RMC awareness. So now, I am really out of my comfort zone. I did not know or understand what was involved in forming a foundation. I began to read and reach out to other people that had been successful in forming a non-profit organization. It was a lot of work and quite frustrating at times, but with persistence and dedication, the Chris “CJ” Johnson Foundation Inc. was formed. I want the world to know that if you believe in yourself, anything is possible.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
If my best friend was visiting, Day 1 – Tour my city, Sugar Land. We have so many exciting things to do here and great restaurants. Day 2 – We would later venture downtown Houston. Select a restaurant that has a jazz band, great food and ambiance. Day 3 – Visit Kemah Boardwalk ..take a boat ride, Day 4 – Hang out on my patio with close friends—barbecue and listen to music Day 5 – Visit the various museums in Houston Day 6 – Go to my favorite Mexican Restaurant to eat Day 7 – Rest prior to them leaving.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My family has played an integral part in my life. My successes would not have been possible without their support. and encouragement. Secondly, a special thank you to our sponsors for believing in us and supporting our cause. Thirdly, I would like to thank Dr. Tannir and Dr. Msaouel for dedicating their time to advance RMC research and develop clinical trials specifically for patients diagnosed with RMC. Last but not least, I thank our volunteers who work tirelessly to make each event successful. Together we will make a difference.