It was Jackie Zydorczyk’s sister, Sherry, who noticed a small, dark spot on her sibling’s forearm in 2002.
“It was very small, probably the size of a pencil eraser, and it was black — a black, raised wart,” Zydorczyk recalled. “The melanoma did travel into a lymph node in my left armpit, so I went through three surgeries that year.”
The then 44-year-old took about three months off from her job as secretary at the Polymer Institute.
“The doctors were hoping that since it was such a tiny little bit in the lymph node, they hoped that [the melanoma] wouldn’t come back,” she said.
But last Thanksgiving, Zydorczyk started to have headaches.
“And I started knowing that I was forgetting names. I couldn’t remember my birthday,” she said. “I started to have trouble with comprehension and understanding things. So I was in trouble, but I couldn’t understand why. You don’t even know what is happening to you.”
When her daughter, April, came home for the holidays, she noticed something was wrong with her mom and took her to Toledo Hospital’s Emergency Room on Christmas Eve.
“The doctors and nurses said knowing that I had melanoma once before in 2002, they assumed I had melanoma growing in my brain. They said it probably came back,” Zydorczyk said.
A CT scan revealed a mass in her brain.
“The doctors said it was stage-four metastatic melanoma. They said the tumor in my brain was the same type of melanoma cell that was on my arm back in 2002.
“The melanoma grew about the size of a lime in my brain on my left temple, and that’s the part of the brain that controls memory of words,” she explained. “Sometimes I was having trouble when I talked; I couldn’t think of words that I wanted to say. I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t get it out of my mouth.”
Zydorczyk was admitted to the hospital Dec. 24 and had surgery to remove the tumor three days later.
Her husband, Michael, left his job at a local printing company to take care of her when she came home. Since then, she has had 15 radiation treatments and soon will start chemotherapy.
“The doctors don’t have any numbers to give me because there just aren’t enough people who have had stage-four metastatic melanoma to the brain,” Zydorczyk said. “They’re hoping that the radiation treatments and the chemo may add 10 to 15 percent to my life.”
She’s looking forward to summer when April, a 2007 UT alumna who teaches second grade in Arizona, can return for a longer visit. April was in Toledo earlier this month to see her brother, Matthew, graduate from the University with two degrees.
“I am so proud of both of my children,” said Zydorczyk, who celebrated her 52nd birthday last week.
She said it’s the love and support of family and friends that is helping her through everything.
“I admire Jackie’s amazing determination and strength,” said longtime friend Jennifer Rahe, data systems coordinator in Financial Aid. “I can’t imagine getting up every morning and facing each day like she does, but she seems to meet each one head-on and is determined to come out the winner in this fight.
“She talks about her daughter and son with such pride that I am sure they are two of the biggest reasons for that fierce determination,” Rahe said.
“Ever since I have known Jackie, as far back as high school, she has always been a strong-willed person,” said Joan Stasa, assistant to the president for board affairs. “She graduated in the top 10 of our class, which makes her a very smart person as well. I know that Jackie will fight hard to conquer this setback. She did it before, she can do it again.”
“Jackie’s a beautiful person. She’s dedicated to her family, and she loves UT,” said Sandy Sutter Pollex, assistant director of Rocket Solution Central. “I know she’s trying to accept this and make people aware of the dangers of melanoma.”
“Everybody should go to a dermatologist at least twice a year to have a body check or if anything looks suspicious,” Zydorczyk said. “Melanoma can have so many different looks to it. Mine happened to be black. Sometimes they just look like a pimple. Some of them are red. Some of them are white. So you just don’t know; it’s best to go to a dermatologist.”
A benefit to help the Zydorczyks with medical expenses will take place Saturday, June 6, at the Fraternal Order of Eagles, 658 Lime City Road in Rossford. A spaghetti dinner will be served from 5 to 7:30 p.m., and there’ll be live music, dancing, snacks and a 50/50 raffle through midnight. Dinner is $7 and $4 for children 9 and younger. Raffle tickets are $1 each or six for $5.
Rahe and Stasa have dinner and raffle tickets and are collecting contributions. Contact Rahe at 419.530.5802 or at firstname.lastname@example.org and Stasa at 419.530.2814 or at email@example.com.