The iconic fashion designer learned she had breast cancer by chance in 1999, after she rushed to the hospital when one of her breast implants leaked and collapsed.
“I discovered my breast cancer because my implant deflated overnight, my left one,” she told PEOPLE
. “I had a massage scheduled for the morning, everything is fine that morning, but I always had to ask for a towel to roll up under my boobs, because I was always scared of them, that they were going to pop, that they were balloons that were going to pop.”
With her breast implant now deflated, Johnson had it removed immediately. “When they took that thing out it was exactly like an old, corroded portobello mushroom!” she said. During the healing process, she spotted a lump.
“I was like, ‘What is this hard-as-a-rock pea going on there?’ Which I never would have discovered if the implant hadn’t deflated,” she said, adding that when she was diagnosed in 1999, mammograms were not advanced enough to find a lump around a breast implant. “Now I know they are much better with mammograms.”
She initially kept her battle a secret out of fear that it might hurt her business. The 78-year-old has since become a vocal advocate for breast cancer awareness. “I am so happy that I am alive, I am feeling good,” she stated.