Dianne Johnson can’t remember a time in her life when she didn’t want to be a doctor. “I felt called,” she muses. “I always wanted to help heal people, and I was drawn to the science of medicine.”
Warm and inviting, Dr. Johnson’s passion for her patients is obvious. As a radiologist, she enjoys the human element of her work—the moments of connection she builds with patients—and she enjoys the fact that she is able to help so many women through early detection.
In speaking with Dr. Johnson, it is clear that her calling to heal extends beyond reacting to health concerns. She champions a proactive approach to health, and urges patients, families and communities to take their health into their own hands.
It’s a philosophy she lives by herself.
Several years ago, Dr. Johnson decided to focus on optimizing her health. Considering her family history of diabetes and high blood pressure, she knew it was time for a change. After hearing a doctor talk about the benefits of a plant-based diet she went all in on a whole food plant-based diet without added sugar, salt, etc. —and in her words—the results were rapid and dramatic.
“I immediately felt so much better,” she recalls.
“Within two weeks I lost weight and optimized my cholesterol levels and blood pressure. I never looked back. I began my journey of becoming an expert not only in breast radiology, but also in lifestyle medicine.”
When we spoke with Dr. Johnson recently, she walked us through her work and discussed her interest in the role lifestyle modification can play in the oncology and cancer risk reduction setting.
Q: In particular, what drew you to working with and/or for cancer patients and survivors?
A: Once in medical school, I rotated through many different specialties but decided on radiology because of the marriage of scientific and clinical medicine that can have a positive impact on the care of so many patients. Early in my radiology training, I was drawn to breast radiology. It is one of the few subspecialties in radiology that has consistent patient interaction. It is very rewarding to be able to diagnose breast cancer at an early stage when it is most treatable. I like getting to know my patients, always trying to guide them toward a healthier lifestyle. Education about breast cancer prevention, early detection/screening and treatment is so important.
Q: Can you tell us about your work at Memorial Hospital’s Breast Center and how it serves the cancer community?
A: The Breast Center at Memorial Hospital is an NAPBC-accredited breast center serving the Jacksonville, Florida, community and offering state of the art breast imaging, including 3D mammography (tomosynthesis), breast MRI, ultrasound, image-guided core needle biopsies and pre-surgical localizations. We have a robust high-risk screening program through which we offer our high-risk patients supplemental cancer screening with MRI and genetics counseling referrals when appropriate. Through my work with the Memorial Hospital Breast Center I have been able to participate in community outreach programs, spreading the word about the importance of breast cancer screening. We understand that there are health-care disparities that need to be addressed and corrected. Through community outreach and educational programs, we strive to eliminate these disparities. As part of my work, I also have the opportunity to educate physicians through continuing medical education (CME) lectures. I incorporate lifestyle modification education in my CME lectures, community talks, media appearances and one-on-one interactions with patients. Putting state of the art breast cancer screening together with lifestyle modification, we can have a huge impact on breast cancer incidence and mortality. Lifestyle modification not only helps mitigate risk factors for cancer, but these strategies also address other leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the U.S. such as coronary artery disease, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, obesity and dementia.
Q: How did you discover AICR and our resources/research?
A: I discovered AICR through my involvement with the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM). After joining ACLM, I promptly got involved with its Lifestyle Medicine for Cancer Member Interest Group. It was through those interactions that I was introduced to the amazing work of AICR. I was blown away by the depth and breadth of the AICR research.
The patient resources are so helpful as well. I read AICR’s Third Expert Report in its entirety and I frequently recommend AICR’s New American Plate to my patients, colleagues and family. I was privileged to present at the ACLM 2019 annual conference and co-author a paper about lifestyle medicine and breast cancer with Nigel Brockton, PhD, from AICR. Everyone who I have interacted with at AICR has been extremely knowledgeable and helpful.
Q: How do you and/or how does Memorial Hospital’s Breast Center utilize AICR’s resources?
A: For the most part, I direct recently-diagnosed cancer patients to the AICR website. There are so many great resources there for them to explore! I also bring up AICR in discussions with all of my patients—and this year I am planning to incorporate more of AICR’s printed materials into my work. I also make sure that I follow up with patients to answer any questions that they may have about the materials or information they receive.
Q: How do the cancer patients and survivors who you work with benefit from AICR’s resources?
A: When women receive a diagnosis of breast cancer, it can be devastating and overwhelming. There are many emotions that accompany the diagnosis, which can include anger, fear, anxiety, grief and a feeling of helplessness. Providing patients with information about the resources available from AICR can be very empowering. Patients can begin incorporating AICR’s 10 Cancer Prevention Recommendations immediately. Even patients without a diagnosis often ask, “What can I do to decrease my chance of getting breast cancer?” It is very helpful to be able to direct my patients to the AICR website, which has so many amazing resources.
Q: Is there any one story in particular that you can share about AICR’s work helping a member of your community? A success story involving a cancer patient or survivor utilizing AICR’s resources?
A: One of the first patients with whom I discussed AICR’s work and Recommendations was an ovarian cancer survivor who I was treating for a benign breast condition. She was, however, at an increased risk for breast cancer due to family history and her previous ovarian cancer diagnosis. I broached the subject of lifestyle modification and she eagerly devoured every word. She was very excited to have something that she could “do” to reduce her cancer risk and risk of recurrence. Since that time, she has embraced AICR’s 10 Cancer Prevention Recommendations, lost weight, normalized her blood pressure, reduced her cholesterol and normalized her inflammatory markers. Several years later, she is thriving.
Q: Have you seen AICR’s resources impact the community outside your organization? If so, how?
A: I know that AICR’s resources are being used in the United States and around the world to improve health. I have seen physicians and mid-level providers from every specialty, allied health providers, health and wellness coaches, registered dietitians, pharmacists and many others embracing AICR’s Recommendations, resources and publications and using them within their own practices and communities.
Q: Have you seen the public awareness around nutrition/lifestyle and cancer risk evolving? If so, how?
A: While there is a long way to go, I am definitely seeing improvement. Lifestyle and nutrition strategies to reduce cancer risk are receiving more attention in the press. I have done local media appearances discussing these strategies. In some ways, social media has improved awareness. I would like to see more hospitals making healthy dining options available to patients and visitors. It won’t happen overnight, but with continued education and outreach we can make a healthy lifestyle accessible to everyone.
Q: How do the staff at Memorial Hospital’s Breast Center benefit from using AICR’s resources?
A: In sharing information with our outpatients, we cannot help but benefit and learn from that information ourselves. I also discuss AICR’s 10 Cancer Prevention Recommendations during in-house education programs and breast cancer committee meetings. It is amazing how often colleagues, allied health professionals and administrators want more information about how diet and lifestyle affect cancer risk and outcomes. I always direct people to the AICR website, publications and resources.
Q: How do AICR’s resources help Memorial Hospital’s Breast Center fulfill its mission?
A: Memorial Hospital’s mission is “Above all else, we are committed to the care and improvement of human life.” There is no doubt that AICR’s 10 Cancer Prevention Recommendations and the evidence-based research published by AICR could help every patient, visitor, employee, health-care provider and administrator at Memorial. I will continue to spread the word about these powerful Recommendations that can reduce the risk of cancer and many other chronic diseases.
Share your Story
If you share our passion for cancer prevention and quality survivorship, we would love to hear from you. Whatever your experience has been — whether you are a patient, caregiver, or loved one — AICR would be happy to add your story to this tapestry.