Video: Scuba Steve battles cancer
GULFPORT -- As he watched "Fuller House" from the couch, Steve Johnson -- after noting he and character Kimmy Gibler were wearing similar outfits -- said he felt great. Four months ago, Johnson, also known as iconic Coast clothier Scuba Steve, was recovering from weeks of radiation therapy after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer in July 2015.
The lower half of his body was covered in burns and scabs. He could barely walk. It hurt to eat. It hurt to use the bathroom. All he could keep down were Pop Brothers popsicles and Powerade. At 6-foot 2-inches, he weighed about 160 pounds.
Now, Johnson is back to wearing his Chacos sandals that once hurt his feet, although he still loves his Kanye West for Adidas Yeezy sneakers. He's gained 30 pounds and is always hungry. For lunch on Monday, he ate a 12-inch cheesesteak sandwich from Tony Nelson's in Gulfport.
He's been golfing and playing hoops.
"He's been doing well enough the past few weeks that we've been playing basketball," said Tan Nguyen, one of Johnson's best friends. "I like to guard him so I can talk trash to him. I don't take it easy on him."
Johnson's cancer began in his prostate and had spread to the lymph nodes before he started
treatment at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport. The radiation therapy had helped shrink a tumor on his lymph nodes.
"It was a huge mass, but now it looks like a little ulcer," Johnson said. "It was really small compared to what it was.
When Johnson went for an MRI at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans last Monday, he was sure there would be good news.
"We were hoping it was gone. It was the prayer," he said.
But the tumors were still there. And the surgeon told Johnson he would need to undergo surgery to remove them.
Scuba Steve, his mother, Karen Johnson, and best friend Kerry Parks, got emotional when they heard the cancer wasn't gone. He'd never had surgery before.
"My mom was crying so bad, she just started balling," Steve Johnson said.
Parks, a nurse, was also stunned.
"I see this kind of stuff every day, but it hits home when it's your best friend," he said.
The surgery, Johnson said, would take out his lymph nodes, surrounding tissue, and remove the tumor.
Johnson was hoping he could just do another round of radiation or chemotherapy. He didn't want to go under the knife.
"I said there's got to be another way, there's got to be a better way," he said.
Confused and upset, Johnson -- along with Nguyen and friend Billy Bankester, visited his doctor at Memorial on Thursday.
She confirmed what the surgeon at Ochsner said.
Option one, Steve said, was to have the surgery and have a colostomy bag for the rest of his life. Option two was to do the surgery and keep the bag for six months, after which a reversal surgery could be done to restore regular bowel movements.
Option three was to do nothing, which means, his doctor said, "You die."
Johnson and his friends weren't ready for the news.
"I felt like I had been hit by a train. I just sat there, staring at the ground," Johnson said. The trio went to Taranto's to have crawfish after the meeting, and Johnson said Ngyuen, who is typically not very emotional, was noticeably upset. And that hit Johnson hard.
Hoping for the best
Johnson chose the second option, with the hope of eventually getting rid of the colostomy bag.
"Instead of using the restroom like normal, you'll have to go into a bag, and you'll have to change out the bag," he said.
Some of the possible side effects from surgery were scary to hear -- There's a chance Scuba Steve could never have children, and there's a chance he may lose sexual function.
"I was just stunned because I didn't expect it to be the final route," he said.
But after spending time with family and friends, Johnson felt more positive by the weekend.
"I kind of accepted it," he said. "I chose to be positive about it and hopefully inspire people. This is my chance to become a survivor, so that's what we'll do. And leave it to God."
He will go to New Orleans for lab work on Friday, and Scuba Steve's surgery will be next Tuesday.
Inspiration from BBQ Throwdown
Last weekend, Johnson gave out hundreds of hugs and took lots of photos and selfies with customers, friends and social media followers at the Barbecue Throwdown in D'Iberville.
While there, Johnson met a man with terminal cancer who told him his posts on Facebook inspired him to keep fighting.
"So many people came out, and it was really inspiring to hear them say I inspire them on Facebook," he said, and it helped him feel better about his upcoming surgery.
Johnson, who hadn't spent much time outside in the past six months, enjoyed the company and the sunshine, although he did get a sun burn.
Johnson said he is thankful and blessed to have his three best friends -- Bankester, Nguyen, and Parks -- by his side during the process.
"They've really been there for me and uplifted me, and it's just been awesome," Johnson said.
"We're his brothers, and we're going to be here for him no matter what," Parks said.
Parks, who found out Johnson had cancer when he was walking into his nursing graduation luncheon, said it's been an emotional time for him.
"Man, the rest of that day, it was a blur," Parks said about the luncheon. "I just broke down. It was pretty tough."
The three men will be with Scuba Steve on Tuesday as he heads into surgery.
"I'm nervous, but I being in this field, I do know he's a fighter," Parks said. "I know fighters have the best to chance to get through it. I know we can get him through it."
A kind community
After he recovers from surgery, Johnson will undergo chemotherapy for six months.
And after that, Johnson said he's confident he'll be able to tell everyone that he's a cancer survivor.
"I have faith. I think it will all work out," he said. "This is the option for the cure. We're not going to put a Band-Aid on it."
Johnson said he is forever grateful for the South Missisippi community for rallying with him during his battle with cancer. Several businesses have held fundraisers, many people have purchased apparel to support his cause, and many have given donations to help pay for medical expenses.
Chacos sandals have given him free footwear, he's gotten three pair of Kanye West's sneaker line from Adidas and the rapper's representatives set up a screening of West's "The Life of Pablo" album release at Crossroads theater in Gulfport so Johnson could see it.