I was a normal, fun-loving and playful child. School, playing with friends and sports were the basic ingredients of my nine-year-old life, until one day everything changed. Waking up one sunny weekend I made my way to the breakfast table when my mom yelled, “Stop!” She continued, “What happened to your eye Andrew”? I looked in the mirror and noticed a bulging under my left eye that I never witnessed before. My mom proactively called our family doctor who referred us to a specialist, who referred us to yet another specialist. But we still didn’t know what we were dealing with. Finally, we decided to go directly to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto where a myriad of tests was conducted. At the end of the long day my parents and I were seated in the waiting room when a doctor came in with the results. My doctor first broke the news to my parents while I played my handheld video game and then he and his team came and sat down in front of me. The next words out of his mouth would change the course of my life forever…
“Andrew, you are sick, but the medicine we are going to give you is going to make you better.” I believed what my oncologist said from the beginning, nodded and prepared for my first experience of chemotherapy that same night. I was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma. At that time there had been only 10 cases in the history of SickKids and it is known for being a fast-growing type. This is why my treatment had to begin immediately. Also, after more tests in the days to come I was given the good news that my cancer was contained in my orbital area behind my left eye.
My initial protocol consisted of nine months of in-patient chemotherapy which is administered over four days and three nights as well as five weeks of radiation therapy. I lost my hair several times and would vomit up to eight times a day. But I was strong through it all, never complaining and focused like Kawhi Leonard on the task at hand. Outside the hospital, I continued to attend school, play rep hockey as a goalie and play basketball whenever I was feeling well.
After my initial protocol set up by my medical team, my cancer had disappeared. My family was so thrilled. I would begin remission and get back to being a normal kid again. Then one of my follow up CT scans showed that some remnants of cancer cells were visible. This began five more months of harsher chemo administered every day throughout the week. This combination of medicine made me very sick. Once the five months were over and after an unsuccessful attempt to remove the tumour, there was only one last solution. I was to face what was known as a “a radical surgery.” The plan was to remove all the tissue in my orbit including my eye and the tumour in the process. The surgery was a success as I now faced the rest of my days with one eye.
I quickly adapted to life and continued to excel in school and sports while winning multiple awards. I thought my battle with cancer was behind me, that I was healed and cured.
During my high school years, the pain of my past returned. As a child, I spent two years of my life inside a hospital and then one day I was released like an animal set free. But I was not prepared. Firstly, I looked different sporting a black pirate patch across my face. I was often stared at, made “argh” sounds at, asked to show people what was under my patch, and asked what time the costume party was, to name a few. Secondly, I was fearless having already overcome so much that I lacked respect for others and was a menace in my parents’ home. Then I started hanging out with the wrong crowd, which spiralled into stealing, smoking and selling drugs. This led to run-ins with the police, and I was mandated to take anger management classes. At school I was suspended several times and almost expelled one day when a saviour walked in. A guidance councillor named Mr. Fraser. I’ve seen this cool looking guy before walking down the halls, but I never knew his role at the school. We quickly built a rapport talking about sports and music and I felt that I could open up to him. He was the cool younger teacher who could relate to my struggles having gone through a lot in his life. I was to see Mr. Fraser at the guidance office twice a week and our visits lasted for hours at times.
First thing we tackled was my confidence. He helped me boost my self-confidence by keeping me accountable to get a prosthetic (fake) eye made. I felt that with a prosthetic eye I could scrap my eye patch and feel normal again. He then gave me the confidence to start working out and put on weight so that I could feel better in my own skin. As someone who was never able to gain an ounce of weight, I went from 130 lbs to 180 lbs in one year under his guidance. I was working out consistently and eating every chance I got. Sometimes I would ask to leave class to use the bathroom and return with a chicken burger. Mr. Fraser then showed me how to respect others, especially my parents. In one instance I was in the principal’s office at school when my mom called me on my cellphone. I answered and said, “What do you want?” Mr. Fraser, overhearing, quickly said, “Was that your mother? That’s no way to speak to your mother, show some respect.” This is something I’ll never forget. He then helped me focus on positive activities like music and sports during my final years of high school. In the end, I made the biggest transition the guidance department had ever seen, going from failure to honour role student, captain of the basketball team and well respected.
I firmly believe that we are not meant to be islands all alone on our walk in life. Surrounding yourself with mentors and coaches is the best investment you can make.
Learn from those who have walked the path your own already so you don’t have to make the same mistakes they did. Last year, I was at a Toronto Raptors game when a timeout was called. I watched as the Raptors coaching staff took the court in numbers that rivalled how many players were on the team. At that moment I realized I needed a coach or mentor in every area of my life too and was committed to making it happen. Today, I have a tremendous support staff around me to allow me to achieve extraordinary results.
After high school, I went on to graduate with honours in my college business program, became one of the youngest to receive their real estate licence, and have helped raise over $500,000 for cancer research at SickKids to date. I have earned the Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year Award, the Italian Canadian Business and Professionals Association Next Generation Award along with many others over the years.
When I was younger, I thought cancer was meant for my harm, but God used it for my good. (Genesis 50:20) It’s given me a unique outlook and a zest for life filled with gratitude for every waking moment. At 27 years old today, I am happily married, something I thought wasn’t possible when I was younger. I am in perfect health inside and out; I have a terrific career as a real estate broker and entrepreneur. I am committed to mastery, a positive mindset, spirituality and developing myself every single day. My team of coaches and mentors in my life today still includes Mr. Fraser. Most importantly, I look forward to helping others who are looking to overcome an obstacle in their life. My passion is providing David with the tools to defeat the giant Goliath.
My autobiography titled “Survivor: Overcoming Childhood Cancer through Faith, Family & Sports” was released April 30th 2019 and available at AndrewMizzoni.com or wherever books are sold.