Jacqueline Johnson discovered her life’s direction at a celebration of life for her aunt. 

“My auntie passed of breast cancer. I was at her (funeral) and, in the midst of it, realized how taboo the whole breast cancer conversation was. No one wanted to talk about it,” Johnson said. “I left there thinking this has to change.”

Four years later, Johnson was selling Medicare Advantage insurance for seniors and managing a large staff. She was also a year away from completing her bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership at Mercer University. However, her passion for finding a way to help breast cancer survivors had not subsided.

Johnson researched the disease and learned from the medical supply salespeople she met on the job. By 2008, she had obtained a business license and opened Mercy Medical Supply, a full-service medical supply store and mastectomy boutique, in Stockbridge.

“It took us almost a year to pull everything together,” she said. “I finally got a Medicare number and was accredited.”

The following year, Johnson launched the Good Life Cancer Foundation Inc., which sponsors events and holds an annual Celebration of Life breast cancer event to celebrate the lives of breast cancer overcomers.

“My team and I are thankful for the many lives these events have impacted.”

After overhearing a conversation on government certifications for disadvantaged and women-owned businesses, Johnson attended a series of Small Business Administration meetings on government contracting. In July 2015, she attended a meeting about a Small Business Administration program that helps small, disadvantaged businesses compete for federal contracts—the 8(a) Business Development Program—and met UGA Small Business Development Center Consultant Lloyd Atkins. He suggested she speak to Alisa Kirk, area director at the UGA SBDC at Clayton State University, to learn more.

“I remember the first day I met Alisa,” Johnson said. “When she told me the requirements for the 8(a) certification, I stood there and just cried. I was afraid and thought, ‘Lord, I’m not sure I can do that, but I will give it a try.’ Alisa had such a motherly spirit.”

Johnson worked with Kirk and Atkins on the application process for 10 months, during which she was awarded a GrowSmart® scholarship.

“I learned some things I really needed to know about my business,” she said.

By July 2016, she was ready to start the 8(a) application process.

“We did our first submission in September 2016,” Johnson said. “They never denied it, but would send back requests for additional information. I sent them my final response in February 2017.”

While working on her application, Johnson was also ministering to the needs of her daughter who had breast cancer.

“I experienced my work on a totally different level when it came into my household. It was one of the greatest challenges I faced: applying for the certification while being her caregiver. Because I had good people like Alisa encouraging me, I appreciate it even more. I don’t know what I would have done without her.”

Johnson’s daughter recovered and was married in August 2017.

“We help a lot of people,” Kirk said, “but they don’t always listen or do exactly as we advise. It takes a lot of determination. They get discouraged when they are told, ‘you can’t do this.’ Whenever Jacqueline heard denials or was told she couldn’t do something, she’d call and come in and say, ‘what do we need to do to make this happen?’ We’d take the long way around, and we’d eventually get it done. She won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and I don’t think ‘can’t’ is in her vocabulary.”

In May of 2017, Johnson received her 8(a) certification.

Four months later, Mercy Medical Supply was awarded its first prime contract with an Native American reservation in Oklahoma that has since awarded two additional contracts. She also fulfills purchase orders for the General Services Administration. Her company has added four employees, and sales revenues in 2017 were on track to triple those of 2016. The business has expanded into a 3,200-square-foot building.

“I give out Alisa’s name all the time,” Johnson said. “I would say what I’ve learned from her to anyone: be willing to make changes, follow instructions, and follow them exactly like they’re given to you.”