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Published August 28, 2012, 11:37 PM

Friends plan benefit for friend with rare cancer diagnosis

FARGO – In late June, Michelle Johnson suddenly became ill. Doctors thought the Fargo woman was having appendicitis. But a biopsy revealed a tumor that was giving her symptoms of appendicitis. Further surgery revealed a rare appendiceal cancer.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

If you go

What: Take on cancer in STYLE! Michelle D. Johnson Benefit Black Tie Silent Auction

Where: JT Cigarro, 855 45th St. S. in Fargo

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 21

Contact: Sara Whitney at SaraWhitney78@gmail.com

Info: Donations can be made to the Michelle D. Johnson Benefit Fund at Gate City Bank, 3909 13th Ave. S., Fargo, ND 58103 or any local Gate City Bank in care of Michelle D. Johnson Benefit.

Silent auction items can be mailed to Sara Whitney, 4278 39th Ave. S., Fargo, ND 58104 or dropped off at Trade Home Shoes in West Acres mall.

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FARGO – In late June, Michelle Johnson suddenly became ill.

Doctors thought the Fargo woman was having appendicitis. But a biopsy revealed a tumor that was giving her symptoms of appendicitis. Further surgery revealed a rare appendiceal cancer.

Johnson, who is 39 years old, said her diagnosis was shocking.

“I was completely healthy before,” she said. “Cancer of the appendix is very rare, so it kind of snuck up on me.”

Johnson, who grew up in Jamestown, N.D., said it has completely changed her life.

“It made my priorities different,” she said. “I was always super-dedicated to work and that’s what I did. I have to take care of me now, first.”

Johnson is recovering from surgery and faces six months of chemotherapy treatments starting Tuesday. She is on long-term disability from managing Express clothing store in the West Acres mall and said she’s itching to get back to work. She has always been interested in fashion and loves how it’s constantly changing, she said.

“I like to be in the know of the current fashions that are going on,” she said.

She also misses everyone who works for her, helping the customers, the responsibility that comes with her job, and having a purpose, she said.

To help her out, Johnson’s friends Sara Whitney and Jon Skudlarek, both of Fargo, are planning a fundraising benefit called “Take on cancer in STYLE!” to help her with her medical expenses and loss of income.

Because Johnson is stylish and loves fashion, they’re planning a black tie silent auction Sept. 21 at JT Cigarro in Fargo. In addition to the silent auction proceeds and donations, JT Cigarro will give 10 percent back of whatever is spent in the bar for the event, Skudlarek said.

“It’s fabulous. I would have never expected anyone to do that for me,” Johnson said of the benefit. “I’m excited just to get everyone together and have some fun.”

When Skudlarek heard about Michelle’s diagnosis through Facebook, he immediately wanted to do something, he said.

“A lot of times when something terrible occurs in life, it’s easy sometimes to sit on the sidelines,” he said. “A lot of people struggle to ask for help, even though they may need it.”

Michelle is not somebody who would ask for help, but eventually Skudlarek was able to convince her to let her friends put the benefit together, he said.

“I think it also boosts morale,” he said. “I can’t really fathom what it would be like, and life’s all about anticipation and I think if you can anticipate something, whether it be a vacation, a new purchase, or in this case, a benefit, it helps through the tough times.”

Whitney said Johnson is just a wonderful, giving person and a lot of people recognize that. Within a day of creating a Facebook page for the benefit, 65 people indicated that they would attend and four people contacted Whitney to find out how they could make a donation, she said.

“It took off like wildfire,” she said. “It’s just been phenomenal.”

Whitney said helping plan the benefit is the least she could do for Johnson, who has been one of her best friends for eight years.

“It really threw me for a loop with Michelle because she’s never really been sick other than a cold or flu,” Whitney said. “She’s never really had significant health issues.”

They hope to raise at least $10,000, Whitney said.

“She’s been the one who’s always given and always taken time. She’s always been that person who’s always remembered the little things,” Whitney said. “I think it’s just a reflection of how great of a person she is that people are giving something back.”

Johnson said it’s very humbling to have her friends putting on the fundraiser.

“I just really appreciate the fact that people would do this for me,” she said. “It’s really eye-opening to see how many people really care about you.”

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