Andrew Dys

Is it scarier facing emu, felon or cancer? Rock Hill cop says cancer, ‘it’s got you’

Joe Johnson has faced an angry emu, armed felons and cancer.

Cancer is the scariest, said Lt. Johnson, a 23-year cop at Rock Hill Police Department and one of the most recognizable faces in not just the department, but the city he patrols.

“When you are dealing with an armed suspect, at least you know what is in front of you,” Johnson said. “You have some control over your actions and the situation and the suspect. With cancer, you don’t have any control. It’s got you.”

But cancer no longer has Johnson, 49, as he is back on the job after bone cancer, and the surgery, radiation and chemotherapy that goes with recovery. Johnson said he is now cancer-free.

Johnson came back to work in the detective division of the police department in late 2017 after surgery to remove a tumor and part of his upper arm bone, now reinforced with a steel rod. He also had to deal with months of cancer treatments.

“The key is prayer, and listening to the doctors,” Johnson said.

While Johnson was out, people all over the city and at York Preparatory Academy school missed him. Johnson often handled traffic duties at the school as an extra assignment besides what he did as a patrol lieutenant.

“I had so many people ask me how Joe was doing, if he needed anything,” said Officer Rex Hernandez, who worked for Johnson on patrol. “He is a mentor to me and many officers. And that shows people out there in the community also know what kind of fine officer he is.”

The York Prep parents and his fellow officers in Rock Hill and as far away as Chester, York, and Lancaster raised money for Johnson during his illness.

‘The outreach from people was just incredible and unbelievable,” Johnson said.

Johnson didn’t tell people at the medical offices he went to that he was a cop. One time a fellow cop took him drove him to the hospital for treatment. The officer was in uniform and the medical staff did a double-take and wondered if the gentle guy fighting cancer had gotten into trouble.

“I had to explain then I was a police officer,” Johnson said. “Even cops need a ride to the doctor when they are sick and can’t drive.”

Yet Johnson is a cop by training, even if his quiet voice and gentle demeanor may not fit the image of a hard-charging policeman. As a shift lieutenant, he was in charge of the entire patrol division working any given day or night. He missed serving the public and is excited to be back.

Even when his job is dangerous. And like all officers, he puts his life potentially on the line every time he works.

But Johnson’s life was on the line with cancer, too.

So Johnson wants to do more for others, beyond serving and protecting the public.

Johnson wants to talk to groups, children, anyone who has someone dealing with cancer. He wants to share his recovery. He wants to tell them that even if cancer is scarier than an angry emu or a suspect in a crime, that cancer can be locked up, too.

“I hope to inspire others and tell them they can stay positive, pray, listen to the medical people, and get through it,” Johnson said.