April 12, 1999
Following a bout with thyroid cancer, 20-year-old Eileen Johnson is excited to be singing the national anthem for Mariner fans.
Photo courtesy of the Johnson family.
by Deborah Stone, features writer
Eileen Johnson of Bothell considers herself a lucky young woman. On April 14th, she will be singing the National Anthem at the Mariners game in front of thousands of people. This, in itself, is noteworthy and deserving of recognition, but for this twenty-year-old woman, there is a deeper significance attached to this honor.
"I never pictured myself doing this, not after what I went through just a few years ago," says Johnson.
When she was fifteen, Johnson was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The diagnosis came on the heels of a three-inch growth spurt which left her taller, but with a bigger than normal neck.
"My throat felt all lumpy to the touch and it just felt funny," comments Johnson. "I went to the doctor and then a biopsy was done to determine if my thyroid was cancerous. When the results indicated cancer, surgery was done and I had radiation several times in the following year and a half."
During this time, Johnson felt sick and was constantly fatigued. It was difficult for her to attend high school, so she completed much of the work at home. "Without support from my family, friends, and the teachers at school, I wouldn't have been able to get through the ordeal," says Johnson. "They helped me so much to deal with it all."
For Johnson, the hard part of her experience was not knowing if she would recover completely and if she would be able to sing with her usual strength and tone. "Singing has always been a passion of mine," explains Johnson. "I was in the Seattle Girls Choir in junior high and did some musicals at school. I love to sing. It's a way to express myself and makes me feel happy."
The prognosis for a complete recovery was good, and slowly the fears dissipated as she remained cancer-free. She was able to resume singing with her natural vocal quality, which fortunately had not been affected by the cancer.
Johnson graduated from Blanchet High School and went on to study at the University of Washington. While in her first year at college, she had the opportunity to do some singing and recorded some of her songs, including her version of the national anthem. She then won a local radio station contest after submitting her tape of the national anthem, and the prize was the opportunity to sing at a Thunderbirds' hockey game.
"I was very excited and it was a lot of fun," says Johnson. "I really wasn't too nervous until just before I was scheduled to sing. During the song, I experienced that feeling of 'oh, my gosh, did I skip a line or forget a part,' but thankfully everything went well."
Prior to the radio contest, Johnson had sent a tape to the Mariners for consideration. She never really expected to hear anything from them, but then the call came announcing that she had been chosen to sing the anthem at an upcoming game. Johnson was ecstatic.
"I didn't believe it at first, but then I started screaming with joy and jumping all around," she said.
Johnson looks forward to the experience and feels it will help start her music career. In the meantime, more singing opportunities have begun to come her way. She is scheduled to perform at the Pierce County Fair in Graham and possibly in the Bothell summer concert series, the Puyallup and Monroe fairs.
"I also have someone writing me some original music and I'd love to have the chance to sing it," says Johnson. "Having the ability to sing is very special to me and I'm just so glad I can do it."