On Mothers’ Day, she was honoured with the best seats in the Rogers Centre, a hug from a Jays jerseys player, a central role in the fight against breast cancer and not a chi chi snack or a glass of wine in sight.
Joanne Lubansky Johns of London has spent a lifetime caring for people, as a mother, friend and nurse. But when it comes to baseball, the 57 year old is a traditionalist. That means hot dogs, peanuts and an ice cold beer.
Johns had seen her share of ballparks, from Boston’s Fenway Park to Chicago’s Wrigley Field and nearly a dozen places in between. It’s a journey that began on the subways of her native New York and is documented in photos above the mantel of her north London home.
But the latest snapshot, as an wholesale baseball jerseys honoured guest of the Jays jerseys, was one she never expected certainly not one cruel December day in 1996, when her surgeon spoke words any woman dreads: “You have breast cancer.”
Her first thoughts were of her nine year old daughter Katy would she live long enough to see her graduate elementary school?
But what seemed a curse was a blessing: The cancer was discovered because Johns had decided at age 43 to have a mammogram, and the tumor was still small. While surgery and radiation would follow, the cancer has been gone for 14 years and counting.
“I do not like to use the word ‘remission.’ I do not have cancer,” she said.
What she’s had instead is a drive to help others with the disease and those raising funds to combat it, making a video for St. Joseph’s Health Care promoting mammograms and speaking at breast cancer runs.
Her love of baseball runs even longer, born in a New York household in which dad was a Giants jerseys fan and mom bled Dodger blue before both teams moved to California.
“Sometimes, they wouldn’t talk to each other,” Johns said.
She grew up a Yankees jerseys fan and measured the seasons by the comforting crack of ball on bat on the radio.
“It’s spring or summer when you hear baseball on the radio,” she said.
But this season has been like none other, thanks to a lifetime of helping others and her husband’s shared passion for baseball.
Dennis Johns was surfing baseball websites recently when he came across a contest: Major League Baseball and the world’s largest breast cancer organization, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, were seeking honorary bat girls who’d been affected by breast cancer and demonstrated a commitment to fighting the disease.
One bat girl would be picked for each big league team by a committee that included the wife of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, herself a breast cancer survivor.
Dennis Johns was at home later when the call came, saying his wife had been selected. Joanne returned and didn’t have to ask what had happened.
“He had a stupid grin on his face,” she recalled.
Joanne Lubansky Johns was escorted before Sunday’s game against the Detroit Tigers jerseys to the field in front of the Jays jerseys dugout where she was greeted by outfielder Corey Patterson, a player she picked because of his speed on the bases and his past connection to the Chicago Cubs jerseys.
Her family was given the best seats in the house, leather recliners in the front row between the Jays jerseys dugout and home plate, their image flashed in the 5th inning on a 34 metre wide screen above centre field.
But it was in a quiet moment away from cameras that her story was best told. Another breast cancer survivor, this one from Woodstock and just nine months removed from diagnosis, threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and Lubansky Johns could see how she struggled with the fear of an uncertain future.