Pastor Johnny Challen – What must be, must be

Seven years after treatment, Pastor Johnny Challen was re-diagnosed with the same primary breast cancer in the opposite breast. He tells us more.

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Johnny Challen (83) lives in Lenasia, Gauteng. He is a widower and has eight children and 11 grandchildren. 

In 2014, Johnny was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent six months of chemotherapy, a mastectomy and radiation. It was advised to undergo trastuzumab for a year as well as take tamoxifen for the next five years to prevent the cancer from recurring.

Despite all of these preventative measures, Johnny was re-diagnosed with the same primary cancer in his opposite breast when he went for his yearly check-up in March 2023. He adds he had no signs or symptoms. 

In April, Johnny underwent a second mastectomy. Due to Johnny’s kidney function being low (due to diabetes), chemotherapy wasn’t an option. So, he was prescribed anastrozole in place of the tamoxifen (which he had continued taking after the initial five years) as it was deemed the tamoxifen wasn’t working. He currently goes for three-monthly check-ups. 

Accepting of the diagnosis

When asked how he took the second diagnosis, Johnny says it was much of the same as the first. “I’m a pastor so I live by faith so what must be, must be, and God will be with me. Though I did feel uncomfortable and disappointed about my second breast being removed. I had big breasts as I was a bodybuilder, so it was all I had to boast about,” Johnny jokes while smiling. “Plus, I would be able to flex my breast (like The Rock) and my grandchildren loved this, so I do miss that playfulness between us…But, I have lived my life so if I had to go anytime soon, I’m emotionally and spiritually prepared. But as any human, it does make me sad to think of leaving my close-knit family.”

Strong family history of cancer

When Johnny was first featured in Buddies For Life, he was interviewed along with two of his nieces who also had breast cancer. Sadly, one of them succumb to metastatic breast cancer. His two sisters also passed away from metastatic breast cancer. 

Since then, his only two daughters have been diagnosed with breast cancer with both of them testing positive for the BRCA gene mutation. Johnny’s six sons have been informed about taking the BRCA test as a precaution and they are interested in having it. 

In 2022, Johnny’s grandson, Jarred, passed away at the age of 13. He was diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of nine. 

Johnny says it was difficult to see both of his daughters go through breast cancer treatment at the same time. But the hardest blow was the passing of his grandson. “I was so devastated and can’t get over it. Sometimes I have nightmares of how he suffered and couldn’t express what he was going through. We were very close, and I would always buy him apples so every time he came to the house, he would show me he is taking an apple. He also only wanted my toasted cheese sandwich, no one else could make him one. Something collapsed in me when he passed away,” Johnny admits. 

Current side effects

Unfortunately, every now and then if Johnny turns to his left, he gets a sharp pain on his left side. After a scan, it was found that scar tissue presses on a nerve from time to time. The breast surgeon said there was a procedure to get it surgically removed but wasn’t sure that Johnny should have another operation. 

Johnny says his stomach has also bloated but due to him being on so many medications, he can’t pinpoint which medication is causing the bloating. 

Other than that, he is good. Though he does battle to walk but he attributes it to old age. “When we go to the shopping mall, my daughter pushes me in a wheelchair but if I’m at home, I’m up and about.”

Laurelle Williams is the editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours Degree 
in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words.

MEET OUR EDITOR – Laurelle Williams

Laurelle Williams is the editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words.
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