GULFPORT -- For the first time in a long time, "Scuba Steve" Johnson was able to put on clothes without pain. The blisters on his hands and feet have healed, but he still wears his Kanye West sneakers for support rather than his usual flip-flops or Chaco sandals.
The radiation therapy to treat the Gulfport T-shirt entrepreneur's colorectal cancer had caused much of his body to burn and blister. He couldn't walk without assistance. He couldn't set up shop at festivals. He couldn't see his customers. He couldn't sell his T-shirts.
"I basically had to sit in a room -- naked -- for five weeks and let it heal because it was ripping off," he said of his skin.
But this week was different.
"I've been able to put on clothes and walk around and drive," the 2008 USM grad said. His anemia is gone. His appetite is back. He's gained 10 pounds since November.
On Monday, he had a CT scan. The results showed his tumor had shrunk from 16.9 to 1.7 on the marker scale doctors use. He's not in remission yet, but he said his "body is responding well" to the radiation.
Scuba Steve is feeling like himself again.
And he said that feeling is in part because of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
A small-business owner, Johnson didn't have health insurance when he told the Sun Herald in November he had been battling cancer for seven weeks.
When the medical bills started coming in, he was shocked at the cost of treatment.
"The bills are insane," he said -- about $150,0000 so far.
He began to call insurance carriers about coverage, and chose a policy through Blue Cross Blue Shield.
The agent told him he could not have gotten insured in the past because of his pre-existing condition. But that changed when the ACA became law.
Obamacare, he said, "helped save me."
Johnson said what has kept him fighting has been his friends, family and Scuba Steve customers who serve as inspiration.
"I've had a steady flow of customers and visitors come to visit me," he said.
Last weekend, he drove to see one of his favorite customers, Kirsten Logos. The teenager has leukemia.
When he was first diagnosed and in a lot of pain, he saw Logos in her wheelchair at a festival.
"I asked her, 'What keeps you going?'" he said. "All she said was, 'God,' and she smiled. And that stuck with me," he said.
Johnson said he gave her a gift Chick-Fil-A had given him -- a year's supply of chicken delicacies.
He said he's thankful for all the fundraisers area businesses have hosted for him, which are helping with medical bills.
On Christmas Day, Johnson was able to spend time with his mother, brother and grandparents. His grandfather, Joe Sanders, has throat cancer. At Thanksgiving, Johnson had been too sick to be with family.
"It'll be nice to have everyone together again," he said.