Support system: Cancer survivors to be honored at Dining by Design

Becky Magdalena and Alan Johnson will be honored at this year's 20th anniversary Dining by Design event. Both are Harlingen residents who battled cancer. (Courtesy photo)

HARLINGEN — Becky Magdalena and Alan Johnson have both survived cancer, and their courageous battles will be honored Nov. 11 at the 20th anniversary Dining by Design fundraiser to benefit the American Cancer Society.

Magdalena’s involvement with Dining by Design began in 2006, when she was asked to decorate her first table. Her connection to the cause was immediate because at only 43 years old, she was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. She credits her husband, Gordon, for getting her involved after he shared her cancer story and love of decorating with a Dining by Design committee member.

Magdalena said being a part of Dining by Design has allowed her to find a support system within the group.

On Aug. 3, she will celebrate 22 years of being cancer-free.

“I lived in Austin, and I am 65 now. I had a child in middle school, one in high school and one in college at the time,” Magdalena said.

Her husband is from the Rio Grande Valley, which brought Magdalena to the area.

She continues her fight against breast cancer through fundraising efforts and events with Dining by Design and the American Cancer Society. Her mother and sister-in-law, plus countless friends, have been impacted by breast cancer, which is why the cause is close to her.

“I advise people to be strong. You have to fight cancer for those that love and support you, but more importantly for yourself,” she said.

“My doctor told me it is all about your attitude. I wanted to fight and live for as long as I could for my kids,” Magdalena said.

Alan Johnson was first diagnosed with colon cancer in September 1983, at age 34.

“The first three worst words to hear are, ‘You have cancer.’ But the best three are, ‘You are cured,’” Johnson said.

He credits his early diagnosis and treatment to Dr. Steve Crayton and Dr. Charlie Fox. However, he said he tried to prepare his family members in case he did not make it. His doctors are based at Valley Baptist Medical Center.

In 2012, 29 years after his first diagnosis, Dr. Erin McCormick diagnosed Johnson with an aggressive form of prostate cancer.

But Johnson beat the cancer again.

Seven years would go by before, once again, he would be diagnosed with cancer. This time it was a form of skin cancer. Dr. Jay Walther diagnosed it at an early stage, and even though surgery was required, it was not as devastating as it might have been had it not been for an early detection.

“There is no way to look but look up. I am doing good and feeling good. If somebody tells you you have cancer it does not mean you are going to die. It means it can be fixed,” Johnson said.

Johnson lost his grandfather, his father and his mother to various forms of cancer.

He credits beating the odds through early detection, dedicated doctors and the progress that has been made in finding ways to treat the disease.

He is grateful to the American Cancer Society for its part in this battle.

“Prayer motivated me first but also my family. I decided I would never miss one day of work the first time I had cancer. I thought if I laid there I would not get up,” he said.

Prayer and a positive attitude, that is his advice.