By Susan Doran
Pausing on the stairs at age nine one morning to let his mother take a look at a bump that had appeared under his left eye, Andrew Mizzoni had no idea that he was about to cross over into a different life.
Mizzoni, now a top-producing sales rep with Homelife Metropark Realty in Vaughan, Ont., recalls his mother saying, “Stop right there.”
When he did, his mother didn’t like what she saw. Neither did the doctors he was subsequently taken to by his parents. Eventually Mizzoni was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare and fast-growing cancer.
“I’m referred to as the poster child for this type of cancer,” he says. Despite undergoing extensive chemotherapy and radiation, Mizzoni eventually had to have surgery, removing his left eyeball and eyelid.
Surprisingly, he feels that the timing was fortunate. In his experience, children don’t pay attention to statistics, while adults, having greater knowledge, tend to be more aware and frightened in situations like that in which he found himself.
“The doctors told me they would make it better and I trusted them,” Mizzoni says. “I just wanted to get back to playing sports.”
His positive attitude paid off.
“Bloom where you are planted” is one of his favourite expressions, and that’s for the most part what he went on to do. Not long after surgery he was back playing basketball and stopping pucks as a one-eyed hockey goalie at a relatively high skill level, having previously been on rep teams in both these sports, even while being treated for cancer.
It was a challenge, but he learned how to compensate for his altered vision. Sports have always been a passion and motivator for him, he says.
Now 27, married, and cancer-free for many years, Mizzoni is by no means a typical millennial. Over the years he has received media attention and various honours for his charity work. His foundation – the Andrew Mizzoni Cancer Research Fund, founded in 2002 – has to date raised close to $500,000 to support pediatric cancer research at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, with the help of Mizzoni’s annual charity golf tournament.
Before he was even out of his teens he had his real estate license, one of the youngest in the province to do so. In more recent years he obtained his broker’s license as well, and a general business diploma.
A successful real estate entrepreneur – as was his great great uncle James Mizzoni, president of the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) in 1976 – he’s an experienced investor and is working on building a new team, the Mizzoni Real Estate – Home Selling Team.
“My career is going well so far. I am financially free,” he says. “Success in real estate is all about building relationships…There’s a picture of me in bed with no hair when I had cancer. I look at it and get inspired. My message to other Realtors is to find something bigger than yourself that can drive you, helping others.”
Mizzoni, a Christian, has written a book distributed through Christian print-on-demand publisher Word Alive Press, titled, Survivor: Overcoming Childhood Cancer through Faith, Family, and Sports.
An excerpt reads:
My new oncologist…calls my parents out of the waiting room to speak with them privately.
“We’ll only be a few minutes,” the doctor tells me.
I sit alone, returning to my video game while wondering, in the calmest of ways, what they could be discussing. Ten long minutes later they all return. My parents seem more emotional than they were.
The doctor then begins to speak. The next sequence of words out of his mouth will change the course of my life forever.
Promotional materials for the book include endorsements by the CEO of the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada (“An inspiring, moving and courageous account that provides hope to others on their journey”), and Rick Hansen of Man in Motion fame (“I am sure all those who read about your journey will be inspired”).
After beating cancer as a child, Mizzoni feels there’s nothing he can’t achieve. He hopes his story will inspire others going through traumas of their own. He had some dark and rebellious years in his teens (“filled with anger, crime and drugs,” says a synopsis of his book) before turning things around with the help of a caring guidance counselor.
“It was hard to adapt to looking different,” says Mizzoni, who has to have both his prosthetic eyeball (painted by an artist, as it turns out) and the silicone skin around it replaced every few years.
He wore an eye patch through much of high school and had to endure the resulting jokes about pirates. Once his glass eye fell out during basketball practice.
He believes that everything that happened to him had a purpose, and that his goal now is to inspire others with his positive energy.
“I want to provide hope to parents and children going through similar situations that they can get past this and have a normal life, that this is just a stop on the journey,” he says.
His story has shaped him both personally and professionally.
“It comes up a lot while sitting with clients,” he says. “Everyone has been touched by cancer in some way. So, it actually creates nice moments with clients and gives me a drive to excel and to inspire others.”
Mizzoni’s other insights?
As agents “you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Follow tried and true methods. Listen to clients. Try to help them, not force them into things they don’t need. Continue to grow with podcasts and seminars,” he says.
And, “Don’t be afraid to share your story.”