The Story Behind The Panacea Project by Catherine Devore Johnson
The Panacea Project tells the story of Calla Hammond, a young woman who discovers that her immune system holds the key to curing cancer. She agrees to take part in a research study dedicated to harnessing the potential in her blood and bone marrow, but things fall apart when news about the study goes public and people become desperate to use Calla as a means to their own ends.
Although the vast majority of the plot in The Panacea Project is pure fiction, the core of the story is based on real experiences. As a young adult, I struggled with hypochondria. When I was feeling particularly anxious about an ache or vague discomfort, I would convince myself that it was cancer. (Unfettered access to WebMD’s symptom checkers did not help things.) I also had (have) an
overactive imagination, and sometimes wondered if maybe I really was getting cancer over and over again, and my immune system was curing it. Eventually, I tamed the hypochondria and my crazy notion about cancer and immune systems filed itself away in a back corner of my mind.
In the meantime, my family experienced an actual health emergency. Ten years ago this May, my husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer and had surgery to remove the tumor. The day I brought him home from the hospital, I learned that a friend from high school had been diagnosed with stage 4 gastric cancer and was in hospice. She died a few days later. The double whammy of her death and my husband’s diagnosis sent me into a tailspin.
My only comfort during this difficult time was the news that my husband’s cancer was early-stage with no evidence of spread. His oncologist recommended strict surveillance (scans and blood work every few months), but no chemotherapy or radiation treatment. My husband was diligent about going to his follow-up appointments and, as time went on, we hoped he had the cancer beat. A year and a half after his diagnosis, though, we got the news that it had recurred in an abdominal lymph node. My husband underwent proton
radiation therapy and has been cancer-free since his last round of treatment.
All in all, we were incredibly lucky. The cancer was detected early, it was highly treatable, and we had access to some of the best medical care in the United States. But the experience was still harrowing and it made a deep impression on me.
It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to learn that once things in my life settled down and I felt ready to do some creative writing again, that old cancer/immune system idea dusted itself off and started demanding my attention. It wasn’t long before Calla’s story began to take shape on the page.
The words poured out of me—clearly filling a need to process the pain and loss we had experienced—and, a little over a year later, The Panacea Project emerged, an exploration of self-sacrifice and a tribute to my husband, my friend, and so many others who have battled cancer.
Calla Hammond has always been a loner—a product of the foster system and avoided by others because of a skin condition. When doctors discover her immune system holds the key to curing cancer, she struggles to advance lifesaving research in a world that sees her only as a means to an end. Yet along the way, Calla gains the one thing she has always longed for: a chosen family. But when a group of unscrupulous people join forces to sell Calla’s blood to the highest bidder, she has to dig deep to find the strength to retake control of her life, her body, and her story.
Release Date: February 28, 2023
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group
Hard Cover: ISBN: 978-0-9858579-9-8; 304 pages; $24.95
Catherine Devore Johnson is a former attorney turned writer. Her work has won or placed in competitions held by the Houston Writer’s Guild and the Writer’s League of Texas, and she has published an essay in The Houston Chronicle about caring for her mother after two strokes. She works as a writer and editor at a children’s hospital and lives in Houston with her husband and two children. The Panacea Project is her first novel.
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