Catching up with Lexington Theatre Vet, Robert Parks Johnson

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Around the Bend in 2012
“2011 was the year my Doc told me I don’t have cancer any more”

by Robert Parks Johnson

Robert Parks Johnson: Before

In some ways, 2011 was a hard year, but even through the pain, we were blessed. We lost a lot of people we love, particularly our beloved brother Doug who fought cancer with such courage and faithfulness. Near the end of his battle, he spoke the words that just may go on my tombstone, “It’s all going to be worth it.” And so it is.

We lost our house in 2011, after a long game of chicken with Wells Fargo. The experience was sometimes painful, more often, it was just a pain, but we were blessed to have the support of our friend Donna, a realtor and a saint, (yes, it is possible.) I also have to thank the Judge who stood between us and the bank’s lawyers long enough for us to complete the short sale of the property. And most important of all, our brothers and sisters, Bob, Bobbie, and Paul, who helped us to find a new “place for our stuff.” We lost a house, but thanks to them, we were able to keep our home intact.

We traveled to Pennsylvania twice this fall. It was my first time home since I got

Robert Park Johnson in Ace, April 1995

sick, and I didn’t realize how much I missed the forests and hills of Western PA. My 30th college reunion was full of joy and tears with old friends Jeff, Joellen, Marcia, and Erin. So was my first, live Steeler game for which I am ever grateful to my old high school classmate, Skip. He gave me a day I will never forget, and can never repay. I got to taste Mum’s cooking again, to sleep in Gramma’s house, to hold my sisters in my arms, and to run the dirt roads we used to walk when I was a child.

2011 was the year the doc told me I didn’t have cancer any more.

I resolved to live the life we had all fought so hard to save. I croaked and strangled pretty girls in No Way to Treat a Lady, my first musical in years. Played a melancholy old queen in the world premier of Stephen Metcalf’s The Happy Hour. I returned to my beloved Actors’ Guild in Glengarry Glen Ross, and End Days. And I got to play in the park again, with a turn as William, Lord Hastings in Richard III. I got my first gig as an acting teacher at our community college, which I loved. I’ll act again in the spring, right after the marathon.

Robert Parks Johnson: After (at the Iron Horse Half, 2011)

Oh yeah, that. The Fat Man is running the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 6. The reality of it hasn’t quite set in, yet. I’m not sure it will until somewhere around mile 18 of the race. This time last year, I walked a mile and felt like I had won a gold medal. I ran a 3K in March, a couple of 5Ks in the Spring, then my first 10K on July 4. I got it into my head that I could finish a half-marathon, and in October, Mrs P cheered as I crossed the finish line. While I trained for that race, people contributed over $3500 to One for the Five, a project to honor fallen cancer fighters, and to raise money for the Markey Cancer Foundation. Soon, I’ll be launching two more projects, one to help Actors’ Guild, and one to help fund LIVESTRONG at the YMCA.

I never went to the YMCA when I was growing up. I was a Boy Scout. When I heard about a program at the Y to help cancer survivors improve their fitness, I jumped at it. I was expecting a free gym membership for three months. I got much more. The Y gave me what it has given so many people over the years: a place to exercise; a chance to meet friends; a way to discover a sense of purpose and value. I can say without shame or sentiment that I love the people I have met at  the Y. Love them so much that when my program was over, I went to the boss and asked for a job. For the first time in my life, I’m actually a little disappointed when I wake up and realize I have the day off.

What’s next?

I’m going to start studying to become a trainer at the Y. I’m going to run another half, and my first full marathon. I’ll be playing in a production of Camus’ Caligula this June. Mrs P and I are finally going to get rid of all the extra stuff we’ve been storing in boxes since we moved from Brooklyn.

So, in all sobriety I can say I’m the happiest  I’ve ever been. I love my wife more than ever. I have work that excites me. I have passion that makes me look forward to ten miles of asphalt on a chilly Bluegrass morning. I can’t stop thanking God for giving me this second (or third? or fourth? or umpteenth?) chance to live.

2011? It was a very good year. 2012? Gonna be even better.

This article also appears on page 8 of the January 12 print edition of Ace Weekly.

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Robert Parks Johnson joins Lexington’s Actors’ Guild team, Ace April 1995

  • Raye Ann Thomas

    Bob- I knew all this, and more- was in you when we first met.. It was just the trip it took for YOU to find the “real” you – and to battle the demons that tried – and will continue to try, in this life, to destroy your potential – that is the adventure – it took real courage,determination,with internal AND external strength to make it through.Thank you for sharing this hard and winding road with all God intends to place in your path – You are a blessing and inspiration to all ! Godspeed, my friend !

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