Help increase screening and prevention for colon & rectal cancer.


Faces of Blue: Jason Johnson

By March 25, 2013Faces of Blue

Jason was never happier or more engaged in life than when traveling, exploring the world.

As you can imagine it’s both easy and difficult for me to talk about my son Jason.  It feels so imperative that people know Jason, the real person.  He was both a regular guy and an extraordinary person, seemingly a contradiction. Nothing pleased me more through their adult lives than to watch the reactions and responses of others to both of my sons.  Jason really grabbed onto his life with both fists and lived it fully, really made it the life he wanted, envisioned, and in retrospect, as Burt said at J’s memorial service, it seemed he lived as if he knew he would have so few years.  So little of his life was about cancer, being sick or dying, but that’s what ended so many story lines midstroke.  I was hoping to convey all of these things in my tribute to Jason.  Certainly, he’s worth knowing, remembering; worth the work of saving, the one thing I’m powerless to do.  That’s why we have participated in the Get Your Rear in Gear events. Our family started the “JayWalkers” and Jason’s coworkers started “J Birds” in honor of Jason.

Jason’s Story

When Jason was a kid, one of the things he and his brother, Burt, liked best was when we traveled around the country, most often to national parks and other beautiful natural places.  From an early age, Jason wanted to sit up front with the maps and be the navigator.  He didn’t just play navigator, he was actually good at it.  Travel continued to be a lifelong passion, and just after high school graduation, Jason planned and executed a cross country car trip for himself, his brother, and a good friend that included the Grand Canyon and Arches National Park. He continued to travel, including trips around Europe, totally geeking out on the planning. Photography was always a primary activity along with seeing more of the natural wonders and enjoying more of the night life than you’d think possible.  He was planning a trip to Vietnam, and his eventual dream trip to Patagonia.  All travel included some complement of family or friends, most often his brother; they were after all best friends.FOB-JasonWehrly2

When he was deciding what career to choose, he chose to be a cartographer, an uncommon path.  He was a modern day version, integrating information for the real estate development/management company he worked for; he had created new tools that had just been recognized within his trade as brilliant and valuable.  He had just begun to receive contacts that indicated his career was about to take off.


This is a photo of J from his 33rd birthday party.

Jason’s 33rd birthday was on March 24, 2011.  He had planned his birthday party to be held in the house he had bought just a couple of years earlier.  This birthday party would be an ultimate celebration of youth, masculinity, silliness, and having an excuse to get a big group of friends together.  The theme was a terrible Stallone movie, “Over the Top” with Stallone starring as a trucker who also arm wrestled.  Jason had set up card tables in his basement, and while revelry continued upstairs, an arm wrestling contest was held downstairs; maybe three dozen friends packed in his little North Minneapolis house.  And I, his mom, was honored to have been included in this exuberant celebration, arm wrestling with them all.  It was a night to remember.


One of the things Jason had said in those early days after his diagnosis was that he would be willing to step up and be the face of colon cancer, so to speak. He wouldn’t be too embarrassed to let people know young people can get this disease. Carrying out his wish aligns with my mission, in the absence of being able to save Jason, to inform the public so that the lives of others as young and healthy as Jason can be saved.

It was less than three weeks later, on April 12th, that Jason was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.  He had noticed a few odd symptoms, nothing digestive in nature, had passed out inexplicably a couple of times, and then he felt pain in his abdomen on the right side.  I thought it could be gall stones when he told me.  Not cancer, none of us thought of cancer.  There’s no family history, but most of all, who gets colon cancer at 33?  Never heard of it.  Well, of course we were going to fight it by Jason’s side.  Family, friends, even his coworkers.  And of course we’d win.  We had to.  It was Jason, strong, healthy Jason.

And Jason, faced with such awful news, did have some anger and depression about it, but briefly.  One friend asked him how he could be so calm, face it without breaking down.  Jason answered him, “I think I’m the one who got this because I’m the one who’s strong enough to handle it.”  He set up a meeting so he could tell everyone at work himself, which I admired him for, it took strength and courage.  And he fought, we got informed, he got chemo, we made schedules, left nothing to chance, so many people helped in so many ways.  But he got so much sicker so quickly.  Shortly after his one and only chemo treatment we had to call an ambulance to take him to the hospital.  He faced excruciating pain because we were told the cancer had not only spread to his liver, which had caused the pain that brought him to the doctor, but through his bones as well.  All news was essentially not only bad news, but the worst news possible.  But Jason was calm, friendly and unbelievably courageous in the face of having to instruct his brother on all of his end of life decisions, in the understanding that he wouldn’t be allowed any more of the amazing, brilliant and unique life he had built for himself, that he had so many more active plans, hopes and dreams for.  He deserved to live the rest of that life.  Tragically, he died June 3rd.  Jason only had a short seven weeks of life after his diagnosis.

Return to Faces of Blue

Leave a Reply