Punching Fear in the Face and Healing the Body

From having fear and anxiety to beating the odds of a brain tumor diagnosis, this episode is about faith and perseverance and the power of the human spirit.

I sat down with Johanna White of Design by Jo in her cool loft apartment in Benton Harbor to record this episode, Episode 19, of the podcast. Johanna is a newer friend. I met her through my boyfriend and we first hung out in friend group activities the way you do in the first year of a new relationship during a worldwide pandemic. You know, sporadically and toting face masks, cloistered together avoiding other groups of friends trying to be in public without actually getting close enough to hear or touch each other. The illusion of being social without actually being social.

Two months ago, we were crossing the border to Indiana for a double date dinner out with our guys when she said to me from the backseat of the car, “You know, I could be on your podcast, Tabitha. My story is not as traumatic as yours, but I have a story about mother-daughter relationships I could share.” So we set a date for February to record.

Then, we were out to dinner a few weeks later and I heard her talking about her business with such passion that I said “We need to talk about this on the podcast as well,” because it ties in with mindset shifts and self worth, and because it’s her passion. Obvi.

I’d heard whispers of her having a brain tumor, and, intrigued by this, I wanted to hear that whole story as well. What I heard, and recorded was unexpected, like, Johanna should be studied, unexpected. Seriously, check out the episode or read the transcript, and tell us what you think!

Our interview was on February 22nd in Southwest Michigan. The transcript is imperfect and not rewritten to be a “good read”. It’s word for word, done by a machine, and hastily edited by yours truly for those insanely funny errors that occur, because Love Me Lab podcast is but a production of One at this point. I do so appreciate you reading and hangin out with us (me and Johanna), today!


[00:00:00] Tabitha: Hi. Hi Johana. We’re here. We’re doing it. We are.. Yeah. Yeah. It only took us, you know, it took an hour, a minute to

Johanna: get set up a while. Hey, it’s been a year and a half since. In person could happen. It’s okay. To lose some

Tabitha: skills. Yeah. I lost all the skills. That’s okay.

I’m so excited to hear your story and where you’ve been and how far you’ve come.

I remember you saying to me, My story isn’t as traumatic as yours, but

Johanna: I start most of my stories off with that. I like to disqualify myself early.

Tabitha: Good, good, good. So people are really listening then.

Johanna: Yeah. I hook them right in, right. Don’t worry. It’s not going to be that exciting. Not that much happens.

Tabitha: Not a lot going on here and not a lot to see, um, But  I [00:01:00] think that you have a lot of things that you talk about as far as your experiences go that are really helpful to people, because I think a lot of people experience, maybe the types of things that you have.

Johanna: Um, so first let me preface it a little bit with just saying that what we just joked about the whole, like my story is not as good. I, I have, I think. A lot of things that happened with my relationship with my mother that inserted fear or insecurities into my life, but I never felt like I had a right to complain about them because she was always trying to be a great mom.

Yeah. Like she tried harder than most moms that you’ve ever met and really kind of found her identity in that. And I think that was part of the problem. And so I never felt like I could. Talk about that or say that because I knew that no matter what, that she did love me. And so it felt really petty to have issues with how she [00:02:00] loved me.

Um, but that aside, I really appreciated talking to you the other day. And you just sparking that because it, it kind of gave me the freedom to go, huh? Yeah. Yeah, I did. So I was very anxious and had a lot of fear. I think a lot of that came from my mom, not having confidence in herself. And then when the brain tumor came, I was forced to face every sort of fear, head on, punch it out, decide to move on with my life and that decision process.

Wasn’t going to be a thing anymore. Fear. Wasn’t going to be a thing anymore. And I overcame within the space of about a year and a half 24 years of fear. No self-confidence and all the things which, um, made my mom sit up and go, Whoa, well, if you can do it, maybe I can do it too. And so the past, uh, six years since then, [00:03:00] she’s been sort of recognizing more of that about herself and trying to get out of it more.

But it was the, the tumor was the catalyst to push past all kinds of fears, not just in. In business, but also in family and realize that life is too short to stay in fear. Even if it, it seemed like. Moving out of it might hurt some feelings or, or anything like

Tabitha: that. Yeah. So when were you diagnosed with a

Johanna: brain tumor?

So I was diagnosed in 2014. I, no, sorry. Fall of 2013. It’s a blur. And I had just graduated from college for the second time, which to. Put some context around why there were two times, uh, you remember I mentioned decision paralysis was a large part of my life. Fear, no confidence. When I graduated from high school, I had no idea [00:04:00] which thing that I loved that I should do.

And I had so much fear about making the wrong decision. So I finally picked one, which was horse training, went out to a ranch. Did that came home from that college? Totally burned out, realized. All my fears were realized. I chose the wrong thing. That spiraled me into three years of, um, just doing work.

That was not at all related to anything that I was passionate about. I was just working various jobs. I worked for my dad installing floor covering, which was great. Cause I didn’t have to go to the gym. But aside from that, not my passion. And, um, finally. Hated what I was doing every day. The 5:00 AM wake ups to go out in the cold snow to cut tile on a wet saw, hated that enough, that it shoved me into.

Okay. I just have to choose anything. Yeah, [00:05:00] anything’s better than this.

So I went eenie, meeni, miny Moe. Okay. I’ve always loved art and design and I’ve spent hours on the computer just putting posters and magazines together for fun. I’ll try that. So I went back to college for design and. I really fell in love with it felt like, okay, finally, I made a good choice. This is going to be great.

Um, but I was still living in my parents’ basement. So up until this time, my, uh, success level we’ll say was very stunted. Um, and I felt behind many of my peers and  the only female role model I had was my mom who. Great mom stay at home mom. Like she homeschooled me and my sister for a lot of our childhood.

And then I got put in public school at seventh grade, but she was not a business. This person in any means

Tabitha: it’s just the opposite for me. [00:06:00] Really? Yeah. I was in school and then I got pulled out in

Johanna: seventh grade. Did they pull you out? Cause you were wild thing.

Tabitha: No, they were afraid of, of the school system.

Johanna: They put me in because they were afraid that I didn’t know how to make friends and was becoming antisocial.

We can talk more on that later.

Oh, well, I know this was a really long answer to your, when were

Tabitha: you diagnosed with a brain tumor,

Johanna: but yeah, that was kind of, that’s the setup so afraid to make choices. Finally, I feel like my life is getting on track. I’ve just graduated from college with a degree in design. And I’ve been working the past three years during college at a creative services agency.

Um, which is nice enough. I mean, at least I’m doing design, but the environment there was horrible. People got fired all the time. It was [00:07:00] super stressful. It was not a great place to work, but I was like, okay. I just graduated. Finally, I am doing two things moving out of my parent’s basement and going to go find a better design job at some firm that has more potential.

And I’m doing this immediately. And two weeks after said graduation, I was diagnosed with the brain tumor. And that went all of my, like, I’m finally gonna get somewhere too downward spiral. You gotta be kidding me. I was feeling like I had momentum and ready to go move forward. And now I have no idea what’s going to happen.

Yeah. So, um, that was kind of the situation. They found the tumor because I woke up in the middle of the night with a pounding migraine that I’d never had migraines before. Just [00:08:00] woke up, felt like a pickax through my skull. And it lasted for four days. It was so extreme. I was sleeping in a closet because just a little pinprick of light when hurt my eyes.

And then when it finally went away, I was left with partial paralysis on my left side and could only raise my arm a little. Um, I couldn’t speak my left. Vocal cords were paralyzed. Um, the sternocleidomastoid muscle was totally atrophied the muscle behind my collarbone. There’s the whole choking thing that happens when I get nervous.

pause for sip of water.

Hmm. Um, all right. Sorry. That may happen three or four more times it’s totally okay okay. So there was lots of visible signs and the worst one was I could not, um, I couldn’t swallow properly. [00:09:00] Food came out my nose instead of going down my throat. Um, so definitely knew that something was wrong. Didn’t know what, um, went to the ER, they ran a scope down my throat that I was imagining things.

Gave me a shot of cortisone and sent me home. Um, Oh my goodness. Still couldn’t speak and see how

Tabitha: that would happen. Unfortunately.

Johanna: Yay. Hospitals. So still couldn’t speak still. Couldn’t swallow. I lost like 15 pounds in 10 days and, um, My abs were rocking though. So there was the perk.

Uh, so then we just started bouncing from doctor to doctor, ended up at an ENT who said these are really weird symptoms. The only thing that connects them is the ninth and 10th cranial nerve. [00:10:00] So he sent me to a neurosurgeon who did the cat scans and the MRIs and all of these things. And they sent me home.

And I went to work that night and, uh, I worked second shift at the creative agency. I was like the, the proofer tester, make sure everything was ready for print catch any file errors type of super, super glam. So you can see how I got where I am like. Right, right. That’s the end of the story. It’s all explained next.

Totally Next, Design by Jo. That’s

Tabitha: it so easy. Okay.

Johanna: Um, not quite. So I was there by myself working at night and I got a call from the doctor at about 8:00 PM. Um mm. Which didn’t have these results

Tabitha: right away. They want to

Johanna: do to have those results right away. Yeah. Yeah. No. When you get a call from a doctor at eight o’clock at night, it’s not good.

And I was there by myself and he [00:11:00] basically told me we found a mass. We don’t know much about it. It’s in a really bad spot. A lot of, I don’t know. I don’t know, as we don’t know, as we can’t guarantee anything, you know, doctor speak for, I don’t want to tell you anything that will lead to you suing me later or like that, you know, and I said, what does this mean?

Am I going to die? And he just said, I don’t know. I don’t know what any of this means. It’s scary. So that was, uh, Uh, when I started thinking, okay, it’s going to be fine. It’s going to be like on that show house where you’ve got something weird, wrong with you and the doctor takes your chart and sleeps with it under his pillow or doesn’t sleep at all.

And until he finds exactly that’s exactly what it is. That’s what I thought it would be and instead, um, they basically said, yeah, we don’t, [00:12:00] we don’t really know. We need to get a brain biopsy. We’ll put you on the list to get that done. Come back in three months and I’m like three months. Brain tumor here. It was

Tabitha: supposed to hurry.


Johanna: And, uh, that was not the first time I heard that. It, it just became this rollercoaster of three months at a time, three to six months at a time you’d go to a new surgeon. They think they could help you with either a CyberKnife or gamma surgery or physical surgery or some pill or whatever. And then they’d take a closer look and decide it was too risky or too this or too that, or too unknown, or they’ve only ever worked with this on someone who’s in their eighties.

And they don’t know the long-term would the CyberKnife actually take this mass and turn it into cancer? We don’t know. And so, um, from the outside, looking in, it was, uh, [00:13:00] it was a crazy. From like, if all I had to go on was the doctor’s word. I would have gone totally nuts and probably be dead by now because every time I would go in there, Uh, six months later, I’d I’d have started feeling better and I’d think, okay, uh, it’s going to be smaller.

They’re going to do thistest is going to show that it’s smaller. And then they take a scan and they say, Oh, well actually we’re using a different machine. So it may be the same size or it could be bigger. Not really certain. Um, but here’s, what’s about to happen. Probably your, your face is going to go numb.

It’s gonna push out the side of your jaw. It’s gonna make your, you’re going to lose hearing in your left ear vision in your right eye. And they would list these super helpful symptoms that were about to happen. And I would have walked in there feeling better and I would leave feeling. Half or all of those symptoms I’d wake up the [00:14:00] next morning, my face would be tingling.

My ear would hurt. My eye would be blurry and it was like, I started to get better and better. And then every time they told me no hope, Nope, expect this. I would leave and feel those things. But the part of the story that doesn’t match the rollercoaster of the doctor’s news is the good part of the story.

And for that, I kind of have to go back to the beginning. I wish there was a way to tell this telling both tracks at the same time, feel free to cut in snippets if they make more sense. I still haven’t figured out how to do the timeline, but yeah. Yeah. At the same time, as the doctors were telling me the, I don’t knows.

That the day after I got the diagnosis, a friend of our family’s, um, we just call him doc, he’s a chiropractor, a really great one. He’s out in South Dakota. Now, um, he showed up on my front porch with a brand new iPad [00:15:00] mini with the olive tree Bible app preloaded in it, and several verses about healing saved in the app and he handed it to me and he said, This is tools for the battle.

Now, grab your parents. We’re going for a walk. And we went for a walk at some park near our house. And before he caught us before we’d had a chance to start telling people or saying, this is the facts. These are, I have a brain tumor, all these things. And he basically said, You say that you believe in healing, you say that you believe in God, this is your chance to really stand on what you say believe and, uh, start talking like it.

And I’m like, wait, I haven’t even had a chance to feel really sorry for myself and lick my wounds and go cry a bunch and, you know, get generally depressed and all the things you’re supposed to do when you get a major diagnosis, um, [00:16:00] Instead, he challenged me to pick a list of verses about healing and he found some, and then I found some that said directly about healing and others that I just spoke to.

I spoke to me, made the list and every time I was feeling the symptoms or feeling the pain, I would start speaking them out as best as I could before I could speak and just standing on them and saying, no, this is what I believe. And, uh, I tried to say, well, doc, I, you know, I do believe, but I’ve also seen all these people that believed and didn’t get healed.

What about them? And he’s like, don’t look at them. Don’t look at you don’t know their story. You don’t know what’s going on in their head. You don’t know what’s going on in their heart. You don’t. know any of that, but you don’t need to be stacking up evidence to the contrary. You just need to like say what you believe and stick to that.

And you might look crazy and you know, there’s [00:17:00] all these fears about looking like an idiot later. What if I don’t get healed and I’ve been marching around saying, God’s going to heal me. I’m going to be fine. I’m not going to cry. And then I die. Well, then I would look stupid.

Tabitha: Who cares? Here’s if you look stupid, that’s right.

It’s true.

Johanna: Challenged me. And it changed my behavior. So those two years, instead of just waiting for the doctors for the help that never came, I spent it standing on those verses while I was working, I would put headphones in with sermons on healing and just let. Let it wash over me. I wouldn’t even try to listen to it.

I would just let it be the voice in my head. Yeah. Because if something wasn’t physically playing on audio, I was on that hamster wheel of fear. You’re gonna die. You’re gonna die. You’re gonna die. You’re gonna die. And I already had anxiety and [00:18:00] fear was my biggest problem from childhood and decision paralysis and, you know, caused by fear.

Yeah. But. The tumor forced me to realize that I had to find a way to drown out the fear. I didn’t think I could turn it off, but I could wash something else over it. And I also started to notice that when I got really anxious and really afraid, um, the symptoms almost doubled, I’d start choking more. I’d be passed out on the bathroom floor.

I couldn’t breathe. Yeah. But when I would start saying those verses, then just focused on something else besides the pain and besides fear, the symptoms would recede a little bit and then I could breathe again. And I could move and. I started to realize that fear was as much my enemy as the tumor and fear.

That’s something I could deal with. That’s my

Tabitha: choice.

Johanna: I realized that it was my choice to let the fear get me or not. So first I punched fear in the face and said, [00:19:00] That’s not too bad. And then I started facing, what am I really afraid of? I’m not afraid of dying. I thought I was, it turns out I wasn’t, cause I know where I’m going to go and I’m excited to get there, but what I am afraid of or was afraid of.

Was living a lesser quality of life along the way. Yeah. Not being able to move, run, ride horse, do yoga, all the things that I not having, the muscles that I identified with is always being really strong. Yeah. Losing those. That’s what I was afraid of. And deeper than that, I was afraid of being unhappy because of losing those things.

And then. That’s when it started to sink in that I also had a choice there and I could choose joy no matter what my circumstance was. And if I could choose joy, no matter what, then there was nothing left to be afraid of because it didn’t matter what I lost or didn’t [00:20:00] lose. I could choose joy and I wasn’t afraid of dying.

So it changed my whole perspective. And taught me those things that I now apply to business and life. One of the, my favorite verses during that whole time. And it was my favorite because I actually heard it, uh, in my mind, the morning that I woke up with the migraine before I even knew there was a brain tumor as a possibility, I just thought I had a crazy headache and I heard this verse, you shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord.

And I was like, well, that’s cool, I guess, but I’m not dying. I just have a headache. Interesting. And then you know end up at the doctor and they say, this is bad tumor. Probably. We don’t know how long you have. We don’t know all these things. And that verse would just keep cycling back. You shall not die, but live.

And I hung onto that. Like, well, God. Was kind enough to tell me [00:21:00] his outcome before the doctors got a chance to tell me theirs. And I still went to doctors. I’m not anti doctor at all. It was just that. I think they’ve been conditioned to give you the worst news because of Sue happy society in many cases, or they’re surrounded by, by death and agony all day.

And, and so they told me what they knew and lucky for me, I, I believe different. And so it changed the outcome. I think that was one of the, kind of, if I had nut shelled that long, blah that I just gave you so eloquently, so eloquently, um, that what you believe matters. Yeah. But what you do about what you believe.

Matters even more. Like, I totally believe that God healed me, but I also believe that he [00:22:00] has healing for anyone who will stand on it and take it. And like the fact that I spoke it out. Yeah. My body started believing what my mouth was saying.

Tabitha: Yeah. Yeah. Such a physical manifestation of the whole mind, mind over matter kind of thing.

And. It’s not magical thinking. I don’t think,

Johanna: but it’s yes, it’s similar. Doesn’t it seem magical,

Tabitha: magical. It’s true. Like our bodies will respond to, um, what’s going on with our brains and our souls a lot of times. So yeah, I can totally see that. So what happened? Tell us how did the tumor shrink. Is it gone?

Where is it?

Johanna: Great questions. All great questions. [00:23:00] So I mentioned that at the beginning, they found it because of the symptoms, which were very extreme. Um, I got my first, I don’t know, from the doctors and we don’t know what we can do within a month or two of diagnosis. And then they said, come back in six months.

Well, during those next period of time, Um, I was praying and standing on the verses and my symptoms started to get better and better and better my muscles. So let’s come back to that. It’s right there. It’s big, bold as a big old sternocleidomastoid

doctors had said that muscle would never come back because it was nerve damage. Yeah. And so I saw that and I saw physical things. I can raise my arm all the way up. I could start speaking and food. It’s in my tummy where it belongs instead of out my nose.

Tabitha: So cute. Get that split pea soup.

Johanna: It was Oreos that were the worst.

Those, those really [00:24:00] hurt.

Uh, and so I started to see physical progress. Obviously I couldn’t see inside my head, um, and the migraines started getting farther apart. And then I went to that, that next appointment with yet another surgeon and they did the MRI and they said, we think it’s either the same or bigger. And, and that’s when, and here’s the symptoms you’re going to feel next.

And I went home and all of the progress I had made. Regressed overnight. And it was like, yeah. Okay. Well, this doctor who knows what he’s saying, apparently I was just faking it, thinking I was better telling people I was better and I really wasn’t. So that happened three or four times. Um, and each time I still did get better and better.

And like, by the last time I was totally back to normal except for what the ex the, the MRI said. Yeah. And. [00:25:00] That they had signed me up. Finally, after two years, a surgeon was willing to take me on, he was going to remove the ear going through the ear canal, chisel away, the tumor wrapped around the cranial nerves.

And he scheduled me for surgery. I got all planned. I was supposed to come back in three months. I like made preparations for a month of recovery after and all of this stuff. I come back three months later for the surgery. I’m on the operating table. They’ve got the anesthesiologist, they are ready to knock me out.

And this surgeon walks in it’s five in the morning. Haven’t eaten or drank in 24 hours. I am. Hangry and just ready for this to be over. He walks in, looks at my MRIs and says, you know, I, I took another look at these and I actually think that this is still too risky and I’m not going to do the surgery. Uh, because I think doing the surgery could put you in a wheelchair or on a feeding tube for [00:26:00] life.

And so I’m not willing to do that to you unless the symptoms do that to you first. That’s super encouraging, but it, it made me realize that they didn’t really care what the MRI said either. They were also just like watching how my body behaved and as it was getting better and better, they were like, we’re not going to take a healthy person and do this.

And so I said, all right, then if you’re not going to either. Then I’m done coming back so that you can scare the pants off of me every six months. So I don’t know what an MRI would show and I don’t know what a cat scan would show. It might still be there. Wow. But if it is, my body has learned to ignore it and totally operate anyway.

Interesting. But I’m just going to keep saying. [00:27:00] It’s gone for all. I know that’s

Tabitha: amazing

Johanna: whether it is or not. And I really wanted, Ugh, gosh, I wanted to be able to show the old MRI and a clean MRI so that I could prove that I was healed. And I wasn’t just one of those people who’s faking it. And. You know, selling it to people for some reason, you know, the, like I grew up in a, in a church, in a Christian home and saw lots of people get prayed over for healing.

Yeah. And then limp away saying it’s all better!Because they don’t want to stand there and say, no, it didn’t actually work. Yeah, I didn’t have enough faith or whatever fear they were afraid of. Yeah. Which was not true that

Tabitha: you can cut that out. No, but that’s how, what

Johanna: people are told. That’s what you feel. If you admit that it didn’t work right then.

Yeah. That’s on you. You must not have had enough faith. Whatever you went to the wrong preacheror he dipped his hand in the wrong holy [00:28:00] waterdon’t you think

Tabitha: it says more that you’re sitting here talking today and you can like bend yourself like a pretzel and all that other stuff without

Johanna: the proof that it’s gone. I think that it means more to me because it’s, it’s a daily living miracle and a living faith.

And I had to learn how to move on in the midst of uncertainty. I never got that certainty that I so desperately craved, but that made me realize that. Very little in life actually is certain. We just think it is, yeah. That nine to five job that seems super certain. Well, then COVID hit and a bunch of people.

Didn’t have it. Yeah. It’s not certain. Yeah. You know, the brain tumor could have killed me or I could have gotten hit by a bus walking down the street. True. So true. So, so we, cling to this concept of certainty, we base our decisions off of it. We let fear push us into, [00:29:00] I got to know what’s going to happen and I, I don’t get to know.

From on a paper and I don’t get to prove it to anybody. And that was the other thing is I have to have the guts to say, Nope, I’m healed. I feel amazing. You should see me out running or riding or dancing. And I can’t prove it to you, but I wouldn’t

Tabitha: tell you anyway. Well, you kind of are walking proof. I feel like, I mean, you’ve got proof that there’s a tumor in there.

Johanna: Right. There was, I want to say there was, there was when you were having these images, he

Tabitha: believes what I tell it and just saying you’re walking proof that it’s not something that was, um, that’s killed you.

and the symptoms that you were having. I mean, they were real symptoms. Yeah. You can, there was a  real cause and effect

Johanna: for that. I mean, I, that I can [00:30:00] prove I still have all of the paperwork, all of the hospital visits and all of the doctor’s notes of the symptoms. And I have all the family members who can vouch and the pictures of the great abs really from the starvation diet.


Tabitha: Excellent. I think that says a lot more about, um, mindset and yeah, the human spirit then. If it worked, if you had proof

Johanna: that it were gone, or if the doctors had done what I wanted them to and taken it out, I would have never known that I had the power to stand on my faith until I saw it come true.

There’s another verse that I love. And, um, I was actually like, I don’t know. I was working out one day and. This first that I’d heard many, many times popped into my mind in a new way. And it was, it says, [00:31:00] I’m sorry, if you are, if you live by the flesh, you will die. But if you, by the spirit put to death, the misdeeds of the flesh, you will live.

And the way I translated it was that living by the flesh would be like living by the five senses, which you can see, taste, hear, smell, touch. And the, the flesh told me in the physical, there is a tumor. Death is my outcome. And then, but it says if you choose to live by the spirit, so taking that next view, one more view up and saying everything I can feel with my body, isn’t the ultimate truth.

Like there’s more above it. There’s that spiritual realm there is heaven there is hell there’s angels, there’s demons and they’re at war for the outcomes. Like if I. Stop being afraid of being all woowoo. And acknowledging that and step into that and [00:32:00] say, I’m going to. From that place. Tell my body – from a place of things you don’t understand.

Yeah. Tell my body. What’s true. Yeah. Then I can live. You mean I just get to choose that

so yeah. That’s that’s the way I took it. Yeah. And, and that’s what, so how do you think

Tabitha: that helped you with your, you were saying you had a lot of anxiety when you were younger and, you know, you notice things about your relationship with your mom, especially but I’d like to know, like, obviously you overcame this fear. Right. But  in what way do you feel like you developed that anxiety to begin with?

Johanna: Um, My mom was not a confident person and she did not have a lot of friends growing [00:33:00] up. And when I was growing up, um, she had a pretty rough childhood compared to hers. She made ours golden, but her wounds ran deep and she would constantly say things like, um, I. I’m less than I’m not as good as them.

I’m not this, I’m not that. And about her parents, she was very, I hate my legs. I have fat thighs. I, this I that. And then we go out in public and people would tell me, Oh, you look exactly like your mom.

Tabitha: So then little me goes home is like,

Johanna: I have fat thighs. I’m not pretty, I can’t make friends. I have no this. And, um, so I, I took all of that on and assumed her [00:34:00] fears, anxieties, and identities as my own. And then to top it off, I think probably the thing that. Shaped me the most in the anxiety was, um, you and I joked a little bit about this before we started the podcast.

We probably should have turned it on sooner, but, uh, the fact that I’m a strong and decisive person, but I was afraid of that because my mom. was very indecisive and not strong. Uh, she never knew what she wanted at a restaurant. She was afraid to send her food back if it was colder or if there was a bug, right?

Yeah. There could be anything. And she was never that fly. She would not be happy about it, but she would never do anything. Yeah. So I watched her be a victim of circumstances when she had a choice and, um, I started feeling like [00:35:00] we always do what Johanna wants to do in any situation. She wouldn’t have a thing she wanted to do or a place she wanted to be.

So I would suggest something even as a kid and we would do what you Hannah wanted to do. And then my friends would say, You know, some of them were equally decisive and we would kind of split the decisions, but a lot of them just fell into, well, I don’t know what I want to do. And okay. How about we do this and I’d make that suggestion.

And so I started feeling like, or mom would comment later. Well, We didn’t do what I wanted to do. Um, she never said what she wanted to do, but I started thinking, well, why I must be too strong-willed must be a bad child. Who’s really rebellious and has no respect for authority. And therefore. It’s

Tabitha: interesting.

That’s what you came away with.

Johanna: I got told that sometimes too, not by her, [00:36:00] but by other people who would be, I would question everything. Not because I didn’t want to do something, but because I wanted to know if there was a better way to do it more efficient way to do it, or why do we do this? And then if you tell me why I’ll do it twice as good.

Cause I’ll not only how it will make sense and you can, yeah. Like I can get behind this

Tabitha: system, like brain tumors and such.

Johanna: I, if I hadn’t questioned the doctors and is this really it, I wouldn’t be here today, but when I was younger, I recognize that same thing about myself only. It was a negative, especially with my mom.

Never standing up for what she wanted. She would go above and beyond to make sure everyone else had what they needed, the clothes that they needed, new, new clothes for school. And she’d have a pair of shoes that was 10 years old and has holes in them. We could have gotten her new shoes. She could have afforded new shoes, [00:37:00] but she kind of martyred herself for the sake of her kids.

And. Without meaning to made sure that you knew that. Yeah. So I was like, well I must be super bossy, super demanding. Super everything. My poor mother is all beaten down by the fact that I order for her at restaurants. Yeah.

Tabitha: Wow. That makes so much sense. It is pretty funny. If you think about it, it’s like backwards.

It was backwards, but not funny, not ha ha funny. Just. Funny like backwards.

Johanna: It is that it made me, I feel insecure and anxious because I was trying to kind of be the adult. Um, and, and I wasn’t a bad child. I don’t think as far as like, if you put me on a scale of other kids, I was probably. Pretty [00:38:00] angelic.

If I remember the amount of times I got in trouble.

So I would like to say she, she should have

Tabitha: count herself. Yeah.

Johanna: As much as I, I loved her, I never could respect her, or at least in an authority way because she approached every decision  from such a state of like, May I please have that. Could you, you could do that. Oh, I don’t want to bother him.

So I’m not going to call him. And so therefore I’m like, I’m not afraid to ask for what I want. I must be demanding. I know what I want here. I must be picky. I Ijust call people when I want them to hang out. I must be a bother, which I know better. Now. Yeah. And she would be probably very [00:39:00] sad if she heard that I drew those connotations from her actions, because that would be the last thing that she wanted to do.

She wanted nothing more than to be the world’s greatest mom. Yeah. And I, and I know that, but because of that, because I saw how much she wanted that and took her identity from that, I never felt like it was okay for me to voice.

Tabitha: So you think the level of anxiety came from that kind of polar polarizing pull of this is me.

I know this is me, but I also don’t feel like I can be me,

Johanna: maybe that and feeling like I had to set my own, try to figure out where the boundary was myself. Like, yeah. Maybe I was more demanding than a kid should have been always choosing the game or the movie or the whatever, or maybe not. Maybe the parents should have just said [00:40:00] tonight, I want to watch this, but when you tell it’s a little healthier, when you’re trying to, um, boundary yourself, like trying to police yourself, to, in someone

Tabitha: developing into young adulthood, that’s really difficult to do.

Johanna: And, and then I had several friendships in. Like late high school, early college, that kind of mirrored that probably, yeah. Hung out with people who reminded me of family. And then again, we joked earlier, but I had one girl who ghosted me and then wrote me a two page letter on my grievances, everything I had done to offend her, including being too picky.

Tabitha: That’s all I got to say about that.

Johanna: Yeah. So that just reinforced that belief.

Tabitha: Isn’t your problem? [00:41:00] Like it’s everyone’s responsibility to speak up for themselves,

Johanna: right? Yeah, I think so now. Yeah. But all of that shifted and shaped and formed me and, uh, And then the brain tumor forced me to face those fears, because like I said, I noticed that fear physically manifested in almost twice as bad symptoms yeah.

At any time. And so after I faced that. It, it helped my relationship with my mom and with everything else. There was so many things that it was like, I don’t know how much time I have left. I believe I’m going, to be healed, but I don’t know. And I’m not going to spend the time that I do have left feeling inadequate or bad about who I am.

I’m just going to go rock it out. And it was the same, that same catalyst. Um, I. [00:42:00] I don’t know, six months or less after I was diagnosed, I looked around my job at this creative services where people got fired every other week. And then they’d just throw their work on your desk and say, Oh, do yours and theirs.

And by the way, wait, we don’t want to incentivize you to stick around. We don’t really care if you stay or go, you’re just a design monkey. There will be other design monkeys and surrounded by, um, co-workers who felt they had been so beaten down that they would go, Oh, we’re just lucky to have a job. You just, you don’t know.

The market is flooded. There’s a lot of graphic designers out there. And so I was there for. You know, I had been there by almost three years at that point, but then after I was diagnosed, um, I got like the six month call from the doctor. I had, it was beautiful [00:43:00] sunny day and I was in this dank dark office and I looked around somebody threw, yet another fired person’s work on my desk and I just got up.

I walked outside, sat down on the curb and I said, okay, I know that I am not reaching my potential here, not even close. Uh, if I don’t have much time left, I should be spending the time I have left hanging out with my best friend, hanging out with my family or doing work that I love. And that really matters.

And also if I don’t have much time left, What do I have to lose? I need to find out if I can do more than this. And so I quit my job with like eight hours of promised freelance work on the clock and started Design by Jo. That’s awesome.  And since, I didn’t want to go to college a third time. Um, [00:44:00] I, I learned the business side of things from the classics, like a rich dad, poor dad.

Four hour workweek. No, the hard hitters.

Tabitha: You basically went to school again on your own terms. That’s amazing. So now you get to do your own thing. And lived

Johanna: your life your way. I, I do. And it was still a long journey. Even after that, it took time to build. There was lots of up and downs, lots of, um, I still spent a couple of years being more or less, just a commodity designer.

Yeah. You know, you tell me what you need me to make and I’ll make it. So I was still a design monkey, just a little more on my own terms. But then I started realizing that if I wanted to be different, I just needed to fall in love with my clients instead [00:45:00] of with what I did and ask them, what do you need from me?

And when I asked, they started saying, we don’t know what questions to ask. We don’t know what we need. We don’t know what to do next. We don’t know what our logo should look like. We don’t know this. And so. I went back and started adding more and more to  Design by Jo and started specializing on whole brand identities.

And the cool thing was that everything that I had learned from the tumor and from that life upside down, I found myself applying to the work that I was doing with my clients. And they would, they would come thinking. Like, I’m just coasting. That’s okay. I’ll be fine. If we do this change and it gets us a little growth because of the branding or what ever.

And I would, I would take their brand and I would show them. Visuals and [00:46:00] mock-ups and sketches of what it could be. And they would see themselves in that, that new identity. And they would start to get excited and go, Oh my gosh. I’m like, this business is capable of so much more than I even thought. And I just thought I wanted to match my competitor, but you’re saying, dang, I can go be this whole new thing.

Yeah. And I got to start watching them walk into more fulfilling their progress and, and maxing out their potential more. We suffer from fear of taking risks. And so many people, if you just went to 10 people in the street, probably eight of them would say, yeah, I know I could be doing more, should want to be doing more with my life or just in my work or with my family or any area.

They feel like they’re leaving a lot of themselves on the table. Yeah. And [00:47:00] I was, I was tired of that. I didn’t want to die knowing I hadn’t ever actually lived.

Tabitha: That’s such a good lesson. Like if you were to die tomorrow, like what would you lose by taking the risk? You know?

Johanna: Yeah. And tomorrow’s short. So you wouldn’t get a lot to change before then?


Tabitha: like, okay. If you just said, if I there’s a 50, 50 chance I’ll die tomorrow. Cause I mean,

like, what’s it going to matter if I do? And if I take this risk, it’s really not going to matter. In the long run, like if I took this risk or if I felt like I looked stupid for a second, when I talk to somebody about something or ask something of somebody or said, you know, I’m going to put myself out there and put myself in front of somebody and, and accept the no

[00:48:00] Johanna: go for no, yeah, go for no

yeah. There’s, there’s a lot to that. And, uh, we, we don’t realize. How much we’re holding back because of those little fears where yeah. Like, well, if I’m going to die tomorrow, who cares? And with that thing with decision paralysis, when I was a kid, and then couldn’t decide where to go to school and then, Oh, no, pick the wrong one.

What if my future is irreversibly altered? We don’t realize how I think how few situations are truly irredeemable. Right. A lot of times just making a decision is better than no decision. You can see, what did they say? You can turn a moving ship. Yeah. But a stopped when nothing. No. So like, just get started, start making, if you’re [00:49:00] afraid to make that big, crazy decision, make a small one, but just start making those decisions and.

You’re going to be way closer. I was, I was afraid to set goals because I might not make them. Yeah. And now I set goals and I miss them, but I’m a heck of a lot closer yeah. Than I was when I made no goals at all. Yeah. And I, you know, I wasted so many years before I even went to school for design because I couldn’t pick like.

That makes me so sad, but also, you know what? It was probably good that I, those years weren’t really wasted. They weren’t wasted. And they were also redeemed because the indecision, I was still living with my parents in their basement when the brain tumor diagnosis happened, which turned out to be a blessing because I had [00:50:00] someone to take care of me and to keep me sane, and, and, you know, Kind of segue to funny story around that was right after I was diagnosed.

I licked my wounds for about one week. You know, I just kind of kept myself, cried the what ifs, and then said every day that I can move, I’m going to move. And I’m going to be grateful that I can. And I’m just going to look at that as the gift, instead of the outcome that I wanted, which was stronger muscles or.

Fixing this or whatever, just movement itself was the gift. And I had friends trying to help me with their concern. They were like, you need to face this. You need to, you need to accept you’re in denial. You need to accept that you’re probably going to die. And what good does it do you to ignore that fact?

And I look at them, I’m like, I don’t think we’re [00:51:00] friends anymore. Yeah. What good does it do me at all to just accept that and move on? Because if I really believed that if I had accepted that fact yeah. My body would have responded and I would have died. Yeah. And maybe, maybe this wasn’t the outcome and maybe I wouldn’t have gotten healed, but at least I would have known that I was doing everything I could to get there.

And then instead they wanted me to like, curl up and

Tabitha: die.

Yeah, that’s incredible. I mean, that’s incredible when I hear your story, because it, it just shows the strength of like character and [00:52:00] personality that you were born with. I think to withstand through all of those things, you know, development and. I mean a brain tumor and not you still like you, you dealt with the anxiety and feeling torn about things like that, but you kind of stuck true to like, no, this is this isn’t good.

I don’t want to curl up and die. If I do this, I will die. Kind of a thing. I’m going to do this instead. That takes a lot of, do you realize how much like willpower that takes?

Johanna: I, I don’t know. If I do until people like you occasionally pointed out, like

Tabitha: you did what

Johanna: I remember. Um, when, uh, so when I first got diagnosed, like I said, I was working at the creative agency and they had me working just under 30 hours a week so that they didn’t have to pay benefits.

It was one of those lovely situations. So I did not have [00:53:00] health insurance. And all of that’s happened. And, um, some doctors were refusing to see me, even though I had cash to pay, but not enough for the big procedures. And so people that I love very much and who loved me very much were saying, Johana, just quit your job and go on Medicaid.

Like, if you are not working, you can get disability. Then you’ll have insurance and it’ll fix everything. And. I thought about it for five whole minutes, and then I thought past it. And I realized that if I did that mentally, I may never recover. Even if my body recovered, I didn’t think I would recover from being the person who chose the easy path when physically I was still capable of sitting at a computer and doing design.

It’s not like it was. Meant like drag my left side [00:54:00] and look past that. And I said, Oh crap, I can’t do that. I am going to believe that I’m going to be healed, which means there’s going to be life that happens after this. And I don’t want to have to even fill out the taxes and the paperwork from having been on social security now, proving this and all of that.

So instead I, um, Got a couple additional jobs.

Tabitha: And I paid as many of my medical bills off

Johanna: along the way as I could. And then when it was time to stop worrying about it, it was like, Nope. That’s when I quit, started Design by Jo doesn’t, that’s not going to drive me, but I refused to. Um, give myself over.

Cause it felt like I would go into that victim mindset and forever. I would be the, the brain tumor girl, which is why you asked this morning. I’ve known you for so long. How did I never know about the [00:55:00] brain tumor? I’m only now learning how to tell this story, because it’s a big part of what made me, who I am and what made my business a success.

And yeah. How I deal with clients and how I expand their vision and why I do, but I never wanted to be that girl that had the tumor. That’s not my identity.

Tabitha: Yeah. I can see that. Yeah. I can speak from personal experience that, that it is a helpless feeling when you do get on assistance. It’s not meant to do that.

It’s meant to just kind of be a stepping stone. Right. But I can see. Yeah, how that’s, it’s just a thing. It plays into the mindset. Definitely for sure.

Johanna: Sure. And, and some people that might truly be their only choice, but I knew in my heart that I was physically capable of still working. And if I chose to not work.

It felt like I’d be [00:56:00] cheating the system. And I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself for that. It wasn’t that I was ashamed to ask for help. It was like, not once again, not doing what I knew I was capable of doing right. That was the me. I couldn’t stand anymore. Cause I’d been that my whole life. Yeah. I was excellent in the middle.

No more middle ran cross country. Middle of the pack showed horses you were running third place.

Tabitha: That’s awesome. I love it. I love it. So now you’re doing Design by

Johanna: Jo. I am doing design by Joe. Yeah, it is. How’s it going? And it’s going. Awesome. Yeah, because once again, I have stepped into more and more of who I am.

I’ve had some awesome people in my life encouraging me, pushing me in the nicest ways. [00:57:00] Right. But just teaching me that, um, you like. Stop seeing the limits. So I stopped seeing graphic design as a commodity because there is like just drive down the main street in Benton Harbor, more than enough design work that needs done just in this tiny town.

Anytime I do research for clients and I’m searching trends and competitors and stuff. I see. Instead of seeing a lot of people to try to. Beat. I see so many poor examples of brands and I go, they need you. The market needs you. The world needs you and you need to stand out so that you can sell your product, sell your service.

My clients, the people that I choose to work with are the people that are truly the best at what they do. They have the best product or the best service in their niche, [00:58:00] but they don’t. Um, their visual brand doesn’t line up with that. So they’re kind of like a best kept secret and, uh, I, I take them from being a best, kept secret to just looking like the best that they are so that they have a chance to live up to their yeah.

Their potential. Yeah. So those are my, my peeps. That’s awesome.

Tabitha: I love that we were talking the other day and it was when I was hearing you talk about the work that you do and the service that you provide it. I mean, you don’t, I think you don’t want to what’s that.

My space heater possibly breathing it’s last. No. Um, when you were talking about the service that you provide, I think you wouldn’t want to like claim that. On your services, but you sound more like a coach.

[00:59:00] Johanna: I know,

Tabitha: but you do, but you provide this amazing, like incentive for people to meet their own potential.

But under this guise of. I’m also going to give you this great branding, which I love. I love that that’s a secret thing that you’ve got going on. I don’t think it should be so secret.

Johanna: So , have you heard the Proverb, I think it is, it says without vision people perish. Yes. That’s the problem myself. Yeah. It’s so hard to picture.

Yourself as better than what you see right now. And so many businesses get in, like they succeed at first or they have goals and then they get in a rut and they can’t see themselves as any more than the competition or is any more than they are. Right. And so I go in and through their branding, we sit down, we have strategy sessions.

First we work on their messaging, which is where I accidentally on [01:00:00] purpose. Start that coaching and I, instead of content creation, I like to call it content mining because the answers for what makes them amazing and unique. Is inside of them, but they just don’t know it. Yeah. So I asked the right question, kind of like coach and then draw it out of them.

And then, then we just kind of like brainstorm it all onto paper. I take it away, crafted into message, bring it back and say. I’m going to read this to you. Tell me the parts. It sounds like you tell me the parts that sound like an alien we’ll fix it. And so they hear it back. Yeah. And most of the time, instead of saying, no, that’s not quite me, they go.

That is — that is me! That’s better than I would have said it though. And, but I can totally see that. So we craft that and then once they have that message and know who they are, who they serve and how they do it [01:01:00] best, then we do the visual side of that, which is. The parts that most people think of as a brand, the logos, the color palettes, the fonts, which all of those choices matter in the psychology of the emotions that they are putting out the perceptions they want their brand to have.

And then, um, a fun thing that I include with brand clients is I do a press release for them. And basically after we’ve completed that first brand identity, I lay it all out and, and talk about the why. So I put it in something, they could send as an email or they put it on social media, but it’s got images, you know, we’re really excited introducing our new brand.

Here’s what we stand for. Here’s what’s changed. Here’s what hasn’t and. Several of the last clients, as I’ve showed them the press release and read it to them have started crying because it’s like getting a photo taken [01:02:00] of you by some amazing photographer. And you thought you were just average and they made you look like a goddess and it’s still you, but it’s the, you, you never saw it’s the you that other people see because they think

more of you usually than you do of yourself. Yeah. And they see that and they just like, now, not only have we created this amazing brand for people to, for clients to aspire to purchase from, but the owners now level up. Hmm, what they’re providing as well. They were already great, but they’re like, we could even greater.

We could take this up when notch, our service could be this much better because we’re not going to put this out there to the world and then not live up to it. And so it’s just like, That the all ships rise type of thing. Yeah. So the

Tabitha: value in their own eyes rises

Johanna: and then the value that they give their customers prizes [01:03:00] again, and then the value.

Tabitha: But I think about that, like self I’m thinking about self-love and self-empowerment, I think when we first start to work on our mindset and our self esteem, you know, and then we realize we’re worthy of love to some degree, and we start doing that more and then. We start to love ourselves. And then it’s like, we have such an abundance of love, like going in and coming out that it’s actually serving other people as well and loving other people.

Johanna: Yeah, that’s it. Yeah. I, um, one of the clients I’m, I’m working with right now, she’s an actual coach. Yeah. Doing her brand identity and her website. And she likes to say they believe that when you unleash people’s passions and potential on the world, it better serves all of us. Yeah.

And I’m like, yeah, that’s exactly it. I want to unlock [01:04:00] unleash and yeah. I like my superpower is, is excellence is bringing excellence to every touch point, not just too a little bit or a little piece of it, but helping you apply that excellence across anywhere, a customer might interact with the brand and then you break it down further.

Most of the time that business comes down to a person who’s running it or started it or founded it and you’re teaching them. How to love themselves and to put the best them. Out there into the world that they can. And I’m sorry. I keep moving my mic away as I gesture. I think

Tabitha: it’s okay.

Johanna: I apologize for the inconsistent sound here.

This is my first podcast. Can you tell it’s gonna be

Tabitha: great,

Johanna: but that, that self-love. And then they serve better. Right? Like you can’t love [01:05:00] other people until you are taking care of yourself. You can’t love from an empty bucket. Yeah. So I helped them fill up their business buckets. They have more to give

Tabitha: and that’s it.

Most business is, service it is service.

Johanna: If they’re providing something to the

Tabitha: world and if it’s coming from this place of. De-valuing itself, the business itself or devaluing what it offers the world. Like it’s going to be crap.

Johanna: Yeah.

Tabitha: Pretty crappy. No, one’s really going to

Johanna: benefit. And there are a lot of crappy products out there.

Yeah. I’m hoping my ideas spread. They’ll start making fiercer competition that therefore people actually have to start providing quality again.

Tabitha: Right. You’re changing the world.

so I  like to ask, um, [01:06:00] what’s something that you would like to leave with the listeners about life or getting through something hard? Just anything that you’ve learned, like a nugget of wisdom that you like to leave with

Johanna: people. Well, there’s so many nuggets. How do I pick one? And I pick two nuggets?

Sure. Okay. One is that the doctor’s word is not the last word. So whether it’s truly a health problem or translate doctor to any naysayer in your life for any big dream like living. Oh yeah. Only like start telling yourself. That the truth and your body will start to respond, set those big goals and the things you need to make them happen will start to come true.

Like you attract what you put out. So stop taking the doctor’s word as the last word. That’s my [01:07:00] one nugget. Amen. And, uh, the other one is the nugget that took me from being a scared, uh, Right after college or whatever, 19 year old, too, um, going out and getting my motorcycle license because I knew that would help me get over the fear.

And that is, um, do one thing every day, that scares you, just pick a little thing and then the fear gets farther and farther away. It has to work harder to scare you. But if you don’t do the little things that scare you, it creeps in. Like the, is it agoraphobic where they can’t leave their house.

To me, that’s just a lot of things, fears that have piled up and haven’t been able to be faced. And then the walls close in and everything outside of that one immediate space feels terrifying. Yeah, but the more that [01:08:00] you start crushing the little fears, and then you get outside of that, the circle moves back and sure.

There’s always still something to be afraid of because fear is a clever bastard.

fear is a clever bastard, but because things will be bigger, more exciting things that you want more so you’ll conquer it or there’ll be stupid little things that don’t even matter. Cause they’re so far outside of your circle, right?

But if you don’t squash something in the fear camp, it just creeps in closer and closer and closer. And until it’s drowning, you

Tabitha: so good. That was my nuggets. Thank you. Thank you for this. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for all of your nuggets of wisdom. I think people are really going to benefit.

Hi from this. I hope I didn’t get too far off topic. No, not at all.

Johanna: Since we didn’t have a specific topic, I think it’s

Tabitha: okay. [01:09:00] We have like three different topics and we wove

Johanna: them together. Neatly

Tabitha: braided. Yeah. Like a horse’s tail.

Johanna: Thank you for having me on your podcast.

Tabitha: You’re welcome. Thanks for being here.

(This story is not shared to in any way deter people from getting proper medical care or provide unreasonable and unrealistic hope for anyone facing a difficult medical diagnosis. We are not medical professionals and this is a story of one person’s experience only.)

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