It was summertime, 1967. Nineteen hundred miles west of the historic Pony Express headquarters in St. Joseph, Missouri, the Summer of Love unfolded in San Francisco. The Monterey Pop Festival attracted sixty thousand humans, many with flowers in their hair. A hundred thousand hippies converged on Haight. The Dead mingled with Jimi, Janis and Jefferson Airplane. The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of the most important albums of all time.
But back in St. Joe, there were no hippies, love-ins or pop festivals. A more common sort of magic happened in the deep August heat, another journey beginning. Vicki Stanfield, the wife of an insurance salesman named Art, gave birth to baby Joanna on August 23rd, a few miles from the Patee House, where Express riders used to began their journeys. They used real biofuels, baby.
St. Joseph is also famous as the home of the outlaw Jesse James, who was shot in the back of the head while dusting off a picture frame. The Stanfields, however, were about as far from outlaws (or hippies) as you can imagine. They worked hard. Art’s occupation caused the family to move a lot. By the time she was ten, Joanna had attended a different school every year. The family finally settled in middle Tennessee when she was in the fifth grade.
By the time she reached high school, hippies had dissolved into the mainstream; disco had had its Last Dance; and punk was poking its disruptive head into middle America–even in Nashville. Joanna spent her high school years doing what Music City kids who hated country music did: sneaking out of her bedroom window to catch punk bands at Cantrell’s and Rooster’s. Her first-chair clarinet gig in the high school band soon fell victim to Black Flag, The Replacements, and Guadalcanal Diary.
Somehow, Joanna avoided unfortunate piercings and body ink, and the midwestern, hardworking ethic of her parents took hold—mostly. (Her dad, 77, still rises and goes to work daily.) She attended Aquinas College and Belmont University in Nashville, but dropped out a year shy of graduation. A mentor, Jim Martin, hired her as a paralegal, and she discovered she had a passion for child custody and divorce cases. Working closely with clients in crisis and seeing them come in at the lowest point in their lives and then blossom. She especially loved writing, research, and interviewing clients. She enjoyed this work for 20 years. There are a lot of divorces in Music City.
The same year Joanna was beginning her journey from St. Joe, a boy came into the world in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Mark Montgomery spent a boisterous but fairly unremarkable youth stealing the family car at night, chasing girls, listening to records way too loud, and thrashing around on a cheap electric guitar. He came to Nashville 23 years later with said guitar, a big mouth, and $800.00 in his pocket. He started working in a music duplicating facility. Later, he would help pioneer another kind of duplication.
Digital music had exploded with Napster in 2000. Mark founded one of the first legit digital music businesses, right in the heart of the old music establishment. He immediately started ruffling feathers with the old guard, who claimed—with validity—that “downloads are killing the music business.” When it became clear that the digital horse had left the barn, IAC/Ticketmaster came calling and made Mark and his partners the proverbial offer they couldn’t refuse. They sold the company, echomusic, for millions. Then, in the fine tradition of Nashvillians who suddenly make a ton of money in the music biz, he found himself needing a divorce. He walked into the offices of Stites & Harbison, Attorneys at Law. After a first meeting, divorce lawyer Jim Martin called in his star paralegal to work with Mr. Montgomery, but with a warning: “This guy’s a piece of work.” The paralegal was Joanna.
After three years together, the two wed in August 2011 in a surprise ceremony at a get-together for friends and family near Nashville’s Gulch district. Joanna, 44, was pregnant, radiant, and happy. The baby was due on Christmas Eve. All was bliss.
But the universe had other plans and chose to make them known through childbirth.
The baby, who would be named Magnolia Grace, decided—as her father often does—that waiting is for the birds. She had something important to do, and little Magnolia did just that. She arrived three weeks early via emergency c-section, perfectly healthy. During the procedure, a mass was discovered on Joanna’s Fallopian tube. A few tests later, it was confirmed that Joanna had stage 3C cancer, and it had spread. As Joanna wrote on the first post of a new blog she began to chronicle a new journey:
“If it weren’t for her, they may not have found the cancer inside me until it had progressed much further. It may just turn out that she saved my life.”
Joanna called the blog, simply, It’s Cancer, Baby. At first, her idea was to inform well-wishers, family and friends of her status, and seek serenity through personal expression. However, as she began to share her story of treatment, matrimony, and motherhood, magic happened.
Her candor and grace began to inspire the lives both those touched by cancer and those more fortunate. The blog went viral. It was picked up by CafeMom’s The Stir, who asked her to write a weekly column called Mommy Has Cancer. CafeMom Studios subsequently published a 10-part video documentary of her story.
Joanna’s journey to a current diagnosis of NED (“no evidence of disease”) this past July lasted nearly eight months. But in a way, it is only the beginning. She is, after all, a new wife, a new mom and a new cancer survivor, with a perspective few are blessed to receive.
“I continue to be amazed on a daily basis by how many wonderful people and opportunities this bout with cancer has brought into my life, and for the changes that have manifested in me as a result of the experience. It has been, and continues to be, transforming in so many ways.”
Joanna continues to tell her story, bring light and hope to others, and share how grace, serenity and peace are all essential to the process of healing.
This brings us back to 1969, and Sgt. Pepper. As George Harrison—who would later become a cancer patient himself—sang on the first track of side two:
“When you’ve seen beyond yourself
Then you may find peace of mind is waiting there And the time will come when you see we’re all one And life goes on within you and without you.”
Today, Joanna is loving and living her own side 2.