Founding Sister - Irma Johnston

Noble Circle Sister since 2004

Irma Johnston Spring 2004 Founder

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, and I had 7 lymph nodes filled with cancer. I took this diagnosis very seriously , as several women in my family had died of breast cancer.

At first, having cancer was very lonely for me. I wrote in my journal on May 18, 2000," Realized last night at dinner how lonely a journey the trail of cancer is. People are supportive, but I am still alone, struggling with this dis-ease."

Later I wrote: quote "When I knew I had cancer for sure, I first thought of sailing. I was afraid that my left arm would be so weak that I couldn’t man the tiller. Then I thought of the sun on the water and wondered if I could be out in the sun when having chemotherapy. I wondered how old my unborn granddaughter would be when I died and how she would look. I easily feel sorry for myself, self pity welling up; yet I know that my life has been no harder than that of others.

In another journal entry, I wrote that I am grateful for Frank and his support, for Amy, David, and Emily, for the grandsons; grateful that I have been able to practice psychology, for my clients, for my friends. There are so many things for which to be grateful.

Through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, I realized that I was not alone, and I felt some comfort in being with others who were also being treated for cancer. In 2002, I helped to form a support group for women with Lymphedema, women whose lymph systems, due to surgery and cancer, did not sufficiently drain their arms and legs. It was in this group that I first heard about Jan Lively and her Qi Gong classes for those with cancer. Diane Butler Hughes was in Jan’s class at the Alliance Cancer Center, and she asked if any members of the Lymphedema Support Group would like to join the class.

So I began to attend classes and to learn Qi Gong from Jan, bringing back life and energy into my weak body and spirit.

In 2003, Jan decided to attend a week long retreat for women cancer survivors, held in California. Jan tried to persuade her Qi Gong class members to attend, but ended up going alone. This retreat was called the Noble Circle, after a woman named Noble who had been courageous enough to have radical surgery for breast cancer, many years ago. When Jan came back to Dayton, she told us about the inspiring retreat; and she asked us to stay after Qi Gong class, if any of us would like to have a retreat in Dayton, similar to the one she has attended in California.

Then began the meetings and meetings and MEETINGS at various locations. The group after Qi Gong class had morphed into eight women, who committed to forming the Noble Circle. We were given permission by the retreat leaders in California to use Noble Circle as our name, as theirs had been only a one time retreat. We decided that the pillars of the Noble Circle would be good nutrition/whole foods, QiGong/ energy techniques, and peer support. The Wellness Connection provided an organizational umbrella under which to operate.

We needed money, so with Diane’s help, we held an Art Show at a local beauty salon, where the artists gave 20% of their profits back to Noble Circle, and the stylists filled their many sinks to the brim with chipped ice for our pop and other refreshments. We raised $1100 that night. More money was needed to have the first retreat; so we put on a fashion show and luncheon, spearheaded by Kim Dahlinghaus. All eight of us, Rosy, Teri, Sheila, Diane, Jan, Sharon, Kim and I, helped; and we had much community support, including Kim Faris as our announcer. The fashion show, named Awear Affair, was sold out and was huge success.

Now, there was enough money for a retreat for the eight of us, including Jan, our leader, and for seven more women. We all headed to Grailville Center, and we packed that weekend retreat full of Qi Gong, healthy meals, demonstrations of cooking and crafts, walks in the woods, meditation, music by a harpist, energy sessions provided by practioners, group support sessions, late night " heart to heart" talks with roommates. At the end of the weekend, late Sunday afternoon, we were all totally EXHAUSTED, yet happy. We then began the ten week program, four hours on Thursday nights, of Qi Gong practice, a healthy dinner, a presentation about spiritual and physical health, and group support. At the end of the ten week program, we were 15 Noble Circle sisters, Group 1.

And the rest is history. Group 19 women will have their retreat in March. This summer will be ten years since the Noble Circle began. Now we are the Noble Circle Project, with 501C3 status. We have a vision, a mission, two retreats for new sisters each year, a fashion show and luncheon each year, a board of directors, committees, alumnae meetings each month, yearly alumnae retreats, participation in many events in the community, and much support from groups and individuals both within and outside our community.

We have lovingly stood by many as many of our sisters passed over. We share in our grief at these times. We remember them with joy. Only three of the Noble Circle co-founders are living; the others are with us in spirit. Yet we are now over 200 sisters strong, and growing. The Noble Circle Project creates a community of women thriving with cancer. Women from all walks of life and at any place in their cancer experience are welcome in Noble Circle. Here we learn, share experiences, become inspired, have fun, laugh, dance, and find comfort and support when needed.

I am not alone anymore. Noble Circle sisters are not alone. One of my favorite plays which addresses this is Sondheim’s Into The Woods. Sondheim says "Into the woods, And through the fear, You have to take the journey…The way is dark, The light is dim But now there’s you, me, her and him.

So what has this cancer journey and my experience with Noble Circle given me? It has taught me to be in the present; to be brave; to connect with others; to be joyful; to love more fully, and to value every single moment.

I’ll close with a quote, I’m bad for giving lots of quotes, from De Crescenzo: "We are each angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing each other."