Johnson and Ebenezer were matched and had a lengthy visit, during which Ebenezer shared the details of her story. Ebenezer explained to Johnson that she was treated at the OSUCCC-James and that her daughter, who lives down the street and is herself a cancer survivor, dutifully chauffeured her to each treatment.
“My daughter was 25 years old when she was diagnosed in March 1996 with acute promyelocytic leukemia,” Ebenezer says. “She received her treatment (at the OSUCCC-James) … By God’s grace, she is doing well and has three beautiful girls ages 12, 8 and 6 years old.”
While illness and radiation therapy took a toll on the elder Ebenezer’s body and her relationships, today she is free of cancer and serves as a general practice physician at a free clinic run by her Lutheran church in the Columbus area.
“I am happy to help with the gifts that God has given me and to help those in need,” she says.
While Ebenezer’s experience heavily influenced Johnson’s vision for the mask, the artist already knew all too well what head and neck cancer could do to a person.
| Joan Levy Bisesi
Joan’s Foundation, the organizer of the mask project, is named after Joan Levy Bisesi, Johnson’s distant cousin. In 1996, when Bisesi was just 29, doctors discovered that a tumor in her mouth was cancerous. Bisesi immediately underwent surgery and therapy to battle back the cancer with all her might. But on the eve of her fifth cancer-free year, in 2000, it returned, spurring another round of treatments.
As her treatment neared completion, Bisesi also discovered that she was pregnant. Although her health had taken a beating, she and her husband embraced the possibilities that lay ahead, and they prepared for the arrival of their daughter, whom they already had named Mira.
Meanwhile, Bisesi and her husband also set up Joan’s Fund, an endowment fund to support head and neck cancer research at the OSUCCC-James. In an email soliciting donations from friends, she wrote in part, “I love flowers and cards, but I would rather be cured and be able to see the flowers at Mira’s wedding than to see them now.”
As Bisesi marched onward, the disease that already had taken so much out of her refused to retreat. It returned for a third and final time, spreading to her brain and forcing doctors to take the baby a month early to give Bisesi another shot at surgery that, tragically, couldn’t save her anyway. She died in 2001 when Mira was just 10 weeks old.