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Moving Forward


It’s Oct. 6, 2009.

The sun is shining and the chill of autumn is in the air. Huntley High School chemistry and biology teacher Toni Mazurek is on the train back from Chicago after a long day of work doing pulmonary research. The train is only half full, and the sound of the train rolling on the tracks, along with the air vent blowing filled the quiet atmosphere.

When five o’clock rolls around, she unexpectedly receives a call from her doctor. He has the results from her surgery last week; when they removed a tumor from her leg.

She has stage two Leiomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer of smooth muscle.

Mazurek is numb with shock; not even the doctors saw it coming. Sure, they removed the tumor from her leg, but it had been there for five years without causing any harm.

She was not sure how to react.

She was in the midst of the public eye, and all she could do was listen to the doctor tell her the news that would change her life forever.  

When the train got back to the station, she went to her car and cried.


However, regardless of the tragic situation she was in, the the last emotion she felt was self-pity.

“I’m not the ‘why me?’ type of person. I just wanted to figure out what to do next and move forward,” said Mazurek.

After 10 minutes she met up with her fiancé at dinner.  He knew something was wrong. She was very quiet and distant. After she told him the devastating news, he was not sure what to say.

“I think my family was really scared for me, but they tried to hide it so I wouldn’t feel bad,” said Mazurek.

For six weeks, Mazurek had no medication other than radiation.

After five weeks, it felt like a third degree burn. With her parents, sister and husband taking care of her, she kept going strong.

“I’m stubborn, and I refused to let the cancer beat me. I have a background in immunology, so I was only scared a little bit,” said Mazurek. “I’m just grateful it wasn’t worse.”

The doctors did a CT scan on her chest to see if the cancer had spread-it did not.

Her chances of getting cancer were less than one percent, and there was no family history that could have been responsible for it. The tumor had been around for five years. She wondered how she got the cancer. The answer was her job.

She was a researcher in the city, and the constant stress became too much for Mazurek. It made her tumor worse. As a result, she quit her job and came to Huntley High School.

It is Mazurek’s first year of teaching chemistry and biology, and she enjoys being here.

“It’s very rewarding and it sounds cheesy, but it’s what I was meant to do,” says Mazurek.

A lot has changed for her over time, but in a positive way.

“I wanted it to be as normal of a life as possible,” said Mazurek. “I don’t want to be remembered by it.”

Mazurek has been cancer-free for three years, and is now living a healthier, stress-free life.

“It [cancer] does not mean death,” said Mazurek. “Don’t let it beat you.”

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