I’m sure you will agree—this mom deserves the prize hands down.
Name: Jo Coiner Burzycki
Location: New Mexico
When I look back to my life almost three years ago and think about all the things I would let get to me, I can’t help but laugh at myself. Simple things would make me yell, “My life stinks!” and it was never over anything important either. Just the usual daily stuff that we all complain about.
Then my whole life was turned upside down. It all started in September 2004 when our new family doctor noticed a large lump in my throat and asked me about it. He felt it was definitely a big deal immediately ordering blood tests and an ultrasound on my neck.
The ultrasound found four nodules on my thyroid and two weeks later I had a fine needle biopsy done. Shortly after that I had my results- medullary thyroid cancer. It’s a rare form of thyroid cancer that leads to testing for a rare genetic disorder. Three weeks later those results came back and I was diagnosed with Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 2a or MEN2a as it’s known.
You would think the bottom would fall out on my world and I would completely collapse in a puddle of tears at that point. I mean here I am not even thirty years old, I’m told I have cancer, plus a genetic disorder that causes MORE cancer. It honestly set me back on my heels but once I found out I wasn’t going to die within the next 6 months, I knew everything would be okay. Sure I cried some but then I wiped the tears and went on with life. I knew I needed to because I’m the Mommy and I had to be strong for my kids.
Immediately after my diagnosis we determined that my three children needed to be tested for MEN2a as well since it’s genetic. You see, each child of a person with this disorder has a 50% chance of having it as well. So blood was drawn on all three kids, we crossed our fingers as we waited, and almost a month later we had our results.
That is when my world felt like it was coming apart. It’s one thing to be told that you have cancer and will have to deal with it for the rest of your life but your babies? How can these perfect little people who are your whole world have to deal with this too? I prayed nightly that some miracle would happen and all three children would come back negative but I knew in my heart that our chances were very slim. One, two, and likely all three would have this. Then what would we do?
I remember the day the endocrinologist gave me the news like it was yesterday. Her exact words were “Your little one, Aidan, he came back negative” then tears started forming in her eyes and her voice broke “but your other two children tested positive, so they have this and will have to be tested and watched for the cancers”. She cried some then hugged me telling me how sorry she was. Did I cry? Only a few tears then I straightened up and in my mind all I could think was “I’ll be strong because I’m the Mom and I just have to be. They need me”.
In January 2005, I had my first surgery removing my adrenal glands and the adrenal cancer. This put me on steroid replacement for life. Two months before my 30th birthday and I was a cancer survivor from one cancer and starting a battle with another one.
On March 30th, my oldest children both had thyroidectomies. We hoped that we were getting a jump on the medullary cancer before it could start but after surgery we found that the cancer had already started in both of them. My two amazing children were now cancer survivors at almost fourteen and ten. We got the cancer in time and they will never have to worry about it again. They will take thyroid hormone replacement for the rest of their lives but this nasty little cancer that chemo doesn’t touch will not get them a second time.
Two months later I had another surgery to remove my thyroid (and any cancer there), three parathyroids, and any lymph nodes in my neck and shoulders that we could find to clean out as much medullary cancer as we could. This left me with a U-shaped scar that covers most of my neck and thyroid hormone replacement for good. When you think of what I had going in and what I traded it for, I think I’ve made out pretty well and feel proud of these “battle scars”.
We didn’t get all of the medullary cancer in time but I don’t worry about it. I know I have at least 5 to 10 years with my children (if not more) and that is more than a lot of people with cancer get. I’ll take any time I’m given and be more than happy with it because it means I get to watch my babies grow. I wouldn’t miss that for the world.
The way I act and live with this disorder sets an example for how my oldest two children will live their lives with it. Knowing that, how could I ever possibly do anything other than be strong? I will be strong because it shows them how to be strong. I will have hope because it means they will face this with hope as well. I will love life because in turn they will learn to love life too and if they are anything like their mother, they will remember to laugh even when things get hard.
I may be a mom living with cancer but when it comes right down to it, I’m just a momâ€¦ living. I choose to fight for life and live it in the best way I can.