A Friendship, A Donation and a Hope

Longtime friends Todd Johnston and Kevin Garrison share a unique connection through basketball, the V Foundation and the fight against cancer.

The day before Todd Johnston’s dad, Dwight, passed away from his battle with cancer, he received a letter.

Dwight, a diligent and organized accountant by trade, was puzzled. Each piece of mail he received was sorted into folders. But this one didn’t fit. So, Todd opened the letter and read words he will never forget.

A donation has been made in the name of C. Dwight Johnston to the V Foundation by Kevin Garrison.

A typically unemotional man, Dwight was moved to tears and turned to his son and daughter-in-law and asked them to play Jim Valvano’s ESPYS speech. He had heard excerpts before, but never the full thing. And this time it resonated differently. Especially one quote – how he closed the speech.

“Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.”

As an accountant, Dwight was curious about the V Foundation. He asked his daughter-in-law to pull up the financial records of the organization. He was thoroughly impressed by the V Foundation’s 100% pledge.

The grandfather of seven had everything planned out for his final days. With his lifelong organized mindset. He had prepared envelopes with notes for each of his grandchildren. He had his funeral planned – who would speak, which songs to be sung, everything.

But, being so moved by the donation from Kevin Garrison and the speech, Dwight wanted one thing changed for his funeral. He challenged Todd to read Jim’s speech for all attending. He also asked if people would like to donate in his honor, directing them to the V Foundation.

The night before he passed away, Dwight and the Johnston family laughed, they cried, and they thought about Dwight’s legacy.

“I don’t know to this day how much Kevin gave in my dad’s name,” Todd said. “But, whether you are donating $10, $100, $10,000 to the V Foundation, to know that every dollar of that goes to researchers in laboratories working on a cure for [cancer] really moved him, more than the emotion of Jimmy V’s speech. He laughed, he cried, but he really thought, ‘Is this what I want to have my legacy be in terms of donations in my name?’ And it was.”

Todd Johnston and Kevin Garrison

The Friendship

Todd and Kevin were not meant to be friends. But sports, particularly basketball, drew them together.

Five years after watching Jim Valvano lead the NC State Wolfpack to the 1983 NCAA Championship, Todd found himself coaching a high school basketball team. He was 21 years old and in college but was also coaching. Kevin was on that team for a year.

Todd coached Kevin and believed in him, and for Kevin, it was the first time he had felt that kind of support. Kevin wound up leaving the team, but their friendship was rekindled after he finished high school.

Over 30 years later, Todd remains coaching high school basketball while Kevin runs a nonprofit organization focusing on mentoring the next generation called Change 4 Change in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Their friendship hasn’t wavered.

Todd attended Kevin’s wedding. Todd was there when Kevin lost his mom to cancer at a young age. They have been through good times and bad.

Through their longtime relationship, Kevin had also grown close to Todd’s father, Dwight.

“I remember those times and not really having a father figure growing up, in a way, he was vicariously kind of a father to me,” Kevin said. “Todd was a friend, a mentor, but his father, I felt very moved by him hurting.”

The Donation

For Kevin, it was simple. He saw Todd going through what he had experienced with his own mom. Knowing the struggles of a battle with cancer and their friendship, Kevin felt there was one option of how to honor Dwight.

“When Todd told me that his father was sick and had cancer, it just kind of clicked,” Kevin said. “That was the easiest thing because I wanted to help someone as much as possible. Me not being a doctor, there’s nothing I could do so the main outlet was the V Foundation to try to be of help.”

“One thing that stuck out to me is I knew this family and the hurting loved ones,” Kevin continued. “We could not help his father in terms of we could not save his life, which paralleled with Jimmy V’s speech. But, let’s try to help somebody else with this terrible disease.”

Kevin aimed to invest in a better tomorrow with his donation.

The Hope

Todd and Kevin were passionate about sharing their story with the V Foundation. Their hope was that their story would inspire others to continue funding meaningful cancer research. Cancer is everywhere, and it needs to be eradicated.

“So many people are passing away and getting sick from cancer; I think that it can be avoided,” Kevin said. “I think that with donations, and with research, we can actually beat cancer. It’s important. It touches everybody’s lives, like Jimmy V said.”

Todd and Kevin know that victory over cancer is coming, but it takes all of us working together to achieve it.

“But people, whatever your walk of life is, whatever your social standing is, Victory Over Cancer® is something everybody on the planet can agree is a priority,” Todd said. “That’s not strong enough of a word. It’s essential.”

The pair of friends have each lost parents to cancer. The best way to honor them is by achieving Victory Over Cancer® in their lives.

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