Journey Through the Chaos
Almost a year into her intense battle with cancer, KayOss designer Amy Johnson finds inspiration and hope.
FASHION DESIGNER AMY JOHNSON is known for taking leaps of faith. In her lifetime, she has done a career 180, traveled the world and launched her own clothing line.
Now, the eternal optimist with the infectious smile is on an inspiring new journey—a fierce fight against cancer, which has prompted an entirely new way of life and inspiration in a way she never expected.
When entering the local designer’s home in the Central West End, visitors are greeted with an array of fabrics hanging on a wall, inspirational tees and her dog Chihuly. In a would-be living room is her in-home boutique, KayOss Designs, where garments upon garments hang from racks and on mannequins. This boutique is where she creates; it’s where she’s inspired. However, just months ago, she couldn’t even bring herself to walk in.
Johnson beams with positivity as she describes the nearly yearlong journey that has led to her now cancer-free bill of health. But her eyes fill with tears when describing the moment she was diagnosed.
“It was very difficult to walk in this room when it first happened,” Johnson recalls. “I worked so hard to change my life to do what I loved. Then this came, and I thought, ‘Gosh, I have to change completely.'”
The 44-year-old engineer-turned-fashion-designer felt she was at her healthiest just before she received the news. When she underwent surgery last August to remove a tumor in her right ovary that she was certain was benign, she was instead diagnosed with clear cell carcinoma, a rare and aggressive cancer. That surgery was followed by a hysterectomy. Through it all, Johnson has maintained her positivity—a leading factor in both her recovery and adoption of a new and incredibly demanding lifestyle.
After the surgeries, doctors recommended that Johnson undergo chemotherapy, but the designer wanted to seek alternative methods. She decided on the Gerson Therapy, a natural treatment designed to prompt the body to heal itself through an organic, vegetarian diet, raw juices, coffee enemas and natural supplements.
The therapy could only be initiated at a two-week workshop in Mexico, so to help with costs, Johnson set up a GoFundMe crowd funding campaign to help raise $11,000 for her deposit to the workshop, where she would learn the regimen for the diet. She set her funding goal at $15,000 and then watched as the numbers soared. In a matter of days, she received enough to fly herself and her mother to Mexico. To date, that number has hit more than $24,000, with donors continuing to support Johnson as she progresses through Gerson’s two-year program. The additional funding has allowed her to purchase supplements, the volumes of produce required to adhere to the program’s strict dietary requirements and a juicer that’s tough enough to process it.
But what Johnson is most grateful for is the emotional support that has continued in the months following her diagnosis. The Gerson program’s strict, scheduled diet naturally prompts patients to spend a lot of time at home—and while this could translate to loneliness for many, Johnson has never felt more loved. Her parents visit weekly to fill her supplements and help around the house, and friends come by to chat. She has also started to see clients again in the KayOss boutique. She enjoys the company, but is always aware of her regimen.
As Johnson pours her 4 o’clock juice consisting of carrots, she shows off the fancy juicer that plays such an integral role in her new routine. In a day, Johnson consumes 13 juices, three large vegetarian meals, 60 natural supplements and three “coffee breaks” (enemas made of distilled water, coffee and tea). “It’s intense,” she says. “But cancer’s intense.”
An assistant visits daily to prepare her juices and meals, and Johnson works with gardeners to help produce the 50 pounds of carrots, 12 heads of romaine lettuce, 15 pounds of onions, 15 pounds of apples and 15 pounds of potatoes she consumes each week.
Despite the intensity, Johnson has become comfortable with the lifestyle and recognizes that it has brought her back to her innate passion for the environment and living life authentically. “[I’m a firm believer in] a lifestyle, a social responsibility, to follow your heart and do what you love,” Johnson explains. “There is more and more chaos we bring into our lives every day, but there is actually an order within this chaos when you create what you want for this world.”
What Johnson misses most about fashion is her frequent travels, during which she would embark on fabric hunts for upcoming collections. She also longs to paint again, a passion she’s had to let go due to the toxins.
Her hobbies have been replaced with her newest pastime, gardening, which has come to inspire her just the same. In Johnson’s backyard lies a row of tomato plants she has grown and nurtured. She also rents a community plot in her neighborhood. She takes much pride in her vegetables and includes them in many of her juices and meals. “It feels so good to pick something and just come and make it,” Johnson says. “It just comes full circle.”
Although cancer is rarely considered a launching pad for a new hobby or career, Johnson believes things happen for a reason. She still continues to inspire St. Louisans through her designs, but she also has a new mission to inspire others through healthy eating.
In October, Johnson will hit her one-year mark on the Gerson Therapy, and she expects to remain cancer-free. As she progresses through the therapy, her juices and supplements will decrease, which will allow the designer more time to focus again on her fashion career.
But no matter what the future holds, Johnson will continue living out her mantra of being present—never wavering from the tagline of KayOss Designs that has held true throughout her life: “If you do what you love and follow your heart, you will find your calm within the chaos.”
Johnson will speak about her journey and the Gerson Therapy at 7pm on July 23 at the Crown Room at Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood. The event is free and open to the public.
Photo credit: Attilio DAgostino