Lymphoma Awareness Volleyball Game Honors ’19 Alumna

Jamie Lavigueur
Ella Johnson ’19 has always loved volleyball. She began playing at 10 years old and continued through middle school at St. John the Baptist in Winfield. At St. Francis High School, she played her freshman and sophomore years, then decided to switch to the manager role her junior and senior years for both boys and girls volleyball. After graduation, she went to her top college pick, Purdue University, where she is scheduled to graduate this December as an animal science major. She’s served as the volleyball manager there, too.

Ella’s story sounds like the perfect coming-of-age tale, and her cheerful disposition suggests the same. But this spring, Ella received news that shook her world: she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the body’s immune system. She is currently undergoing (and responding well to) chemotherapy.

In her honor, SFHS Girls Volleyball will host Mother McAuley at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 14, during a very special game dedicated to Lymphoma Awareness. Raffle baskets, T-shirts, a 50/50 raffle, and baked goods will be available at the game to benefit the cause.

“It’s not a good wake-up call but the awareness is important,” Ella said, who plans on giving a speech at the game. “It’s a good thing to know about - especially the importance of catching it early.”

Ella said she remembers starting to feel sick in September of last year, with what just seemed like “the college flu.” Trips to urgent care helped alleviate her symptoms but a persistent cough remained for months and was eventually accompanied by debilitating headaches. When she started experiencing shortness of breath on a simple walk to her car, doctors sent her to the emergency room for X-rays.

It was then they discovered a mass in her chest that was about the same size as her heart. It came back as Stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and she is now in the midst of six months of chemotherapy. Remarkably, Ella is continuing her studies at Purdue via online classes while living at home. She also took the opportunity to dye her hair purple a few weeks ago.

“I’ve never been able to do that, with school and college headshots, so this was my chance,” she said. A few days ago, when it began to fall out, her brother helped her shave it.

“The biggest thing I’ve been struggling with is I’m 21 years old with cancer. That’s not supposed to happen,” she said. “I go to chemo, and everyone is my great-grandparents’ age.”

She received some good news from doctors recently: her tumor has shrunk significantly since beginning treatment and is no longer growing.

Ella, who grew up in Wheaton, said she chose SFHS because she wanted a small-school feel. “I wanted to be in a place where everyone knows your name, and the teachers know your name,” she said. Her SFHS teachers have reached out to her since hearing of the news to offer comfort and prayers.

Ella’s mother, Melissa Mitchell Johnson ‘90, is also an SFHS alumna.
EVENT DETAILS: SFHS Volleyball Lymphoma Awareness Night
SFHS Girls Volleyball hosts Mother McAuley
6:00 p.m. Wednesday, September 14
Raffle baskets, T-shirts, a 50/50 raffle, and baked goods will be available at the game to benefit the Lymphoma Awareness
    • Ella Johnson '19, pictured here in her senior year at SFHS.

St. Francis High School