Help Me Make My Dream Come True…Please!!

A month from today I will be on a plane heading back from my vacation in Los Angeles. I will barely be able to sit still in my seat because I’m going to be too excited to get home. Yes you read that right – I’ll be too excited to come home…from vacation…in LA. I’m not crazy, I swear. I’m a dreamer. A big dreamer. And I have a dream…a big dream. Giant. Life changing – and one that is going to come true. My dream is going to begin to come true while I’m in LA, next month.

If you follow Scarred, Not Broken on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or here, you know that I celebrated my 25 year burn anniversary this past summer. July 25, 1993 my life was changed by the flick of a lighter when I was only nine years old. (See previous blog post I’ll Always Remember… for more on what happened when the cabin I was in exploded). I’ve celebrated (and sometimes dreaded) the anniversary of my accident (also explained more in I’ll Always Remember…) but 25 years is a quarter of a century…that’s a long time. I decided I was going to do something big to commemorate 25 years of surviving being burned.

Dad, Tom, and Janelle visiting
Me at nine years old in the hospital with 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 45% of my body

I decided that I was going to go on a trip, by myself, to LA. Why LA when I could have picked almost anywhere else? Because LA is the city where dreams come true…and my dream is going to come true when I’m there. I’m also a big believer that what you put out into the universe comes back to you…so I’m keeping positive and reminding the universe that I have a dream…

Walking for the first time 2
Learning how to walk again – despite the fact my legs and arms were covered in burns.

As mentioned earlier, I’m not crazy. I do know that there is a chance that my dream won’t come true while I’m in LA – but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do everything I can to make it happen…it also means that IF it doesn’t come true next month, it doesn’t mean it will never come true.

So what’s my dream? Well. I can’t tell you. Not yet. Not until someone else hears it first.  One thing I can tell you about it…is it was formed the day that cabin exploded (I just didn’t know it then). I’d always known I was burned for a purpose – I may not have been born for this dream but I was burned for it.

I believe in my dream so much, that I am certain that if I get the chance to share it with the one and only Ellen DeGeneres, she’ll believe in it as much as I do.

Why Ellen? Because she’s Ellen, first of all. She lives for making dreams come true for others. And my dream is all about love, acceptance, understanding – and I know it will change the world, for the better. All things Ellen stands for.

I hated that mask so much…had to wear it all day and night for a year. Photo credit: Jerry Cordeiro

I’ve had this dream for awhile, and I’ve been working hard to make it come true. But I can’t do it alone – it’s that big. Although that hasn’t stopped me from working towards it. I’ve sent emails, letters (yes typed and snail mailed), made calls – I just haven’t reached the right person yet.

For my 25 year burn anniversary, my family surprised me with tickets to see Ellen when she came to Calgary earlier this year. I was blown away and wanted to keep pinching myself when she walked into the auditorium. I was in the same room as Ellen freaking DeGeneres (never mind the thousands of others that were there). I took that opportunity to try and see if she’d read my dream. I’d never been to a Q&A with a celebrity before so I didn’t know what to expect – so my kids and I made a giant sign to see if that’d work. I had my dream printed out and clutched in my hand ready to give her.

Kids and dream
My kids all pitched in and made a sign for me to bring to the show.

It didn’t happen. Obviously. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if it did. But I still didn’t give up. Everything Ellen had to say that day struck me to the core. And further confirmed for me that I cannot give up on my dream. See my previous post, Dear Ellen…, to read how she did this.

One thing Ellen talked about that day, was how Johnny Carson gave her a chance, believed in her and helped make her dream come true. Ellen is my Johnny Carson. I truly believe that when she hears my dream, she’ll want to help make it happen.

25 years 4
I also wanted to do a photo shoot that portrayed how strong I’ve become since my accident. To show that I didn’t let something so horrible and painful destroy my life. Photo by Jerry Cordeiro

So I’m headed to LA. I leave November 8 and come home November 16 (hopefully – I’m flying stand by so it can be tricky). I do not have tickets to Ellen’s show. I tried. But they go so fast. But I’m going to try my chances at calling the number for day-of tickets every day I’m in LA, with my fingers, toes, and eyes crossed (I don’t know how to cross my eyes but that’s not important).

But that’s not all I’m going to do. I’m going to ask for your help too. So many of you helped me when I tried to get Ellen’s attention before I saw her in Calgary (see Help Me Get Ellen’s Attention!! Please!). That blog post was, and still is, the most shared post I’ve ever had. Sure it didn’t work then but I’m not giving up! You never know…it could work this time!

25 years 1
Photo by Jerry Cordeiro

I am going to LA and I’m going to get tickets to the Ellen show, somehow. I don’t need to be on stage, even just in the audience would be beyond amazing. But when I do go, I still need Ellen’s attention – because I will have my dream printed out and in my hand, ready to give to her, just like I hoped for in Calgary.

So please, share this. Tag Ellen. Email her. Call her. Text her…if we’re friends and you’re that close to Ellen that you can do that, then we need to talk….why hadn’t you told me sooner?! LOL. Come with me on this dream of mine and help be part of the reason it comes true.

One day, I will share my dream with the world. Not just because it’s going to come true and you’ll have no choice, but also because it’s what the world needs right now. Love. Acceptance. Understanding. Even though you don’t know (yet) what the dream is, those three words describe it, perfectly.

25 years 3
It was my decision to include a propane bottle in my 25 year anniversary photo shoot. I needed it there…because it almost killed me once, I wanted to show everyone that I am not afraid. And I stood proudly for this photo. Proud of who I am and how far I’ve come in 25 years. Photo by Jerry Cordeiro

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for your support, always. I want my dream to be yours too. Ok, I have a trip to plan now!!! I know the first thing I’ll be packing…

Dear Ellen


Much love,

Joy Zylstra






Dear Ellen…

You don’t know me (yet), but I was one of the thousands of people in the room laughing with you, crying because it’s you, and cheering at almost everything you said when you were in Calgary, AB this past weekend. I know you likely won’t actually see this, but I feel putting it out there into the universe can’t hurt.

Being able to see you and go to your show was a dream of mine. A couple of weeks prior to the show, my entire family (there’s a lot of us. Like, almost-need-to-rent-a-hall-for-family-get-together’s, a lot) , my husband and members of his family, surprised me with a beautiful hand-made card and two tickets for your Calgary show. I was shocked. Excited. And so incredibly happy.

This is just after I received the tickets. I was overwhelmed with so much love.

July 25, 2018 will mark 25 years since the day my life changed forever. I was only nine years old and in a propane explosion on July 25, 1993. With 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 45% of my body, I was forced to live the rest of my life with scars. To celebrate my 25 year anniversary this year, I had decided to go to LA at some point this year and try my luck with getting tickets to your show. Although I still plan to do that, those who gave me the tickets to your Calgary appearance knew that would be just as amazing. They all made that dream come true for me. I will be forever grateful to each and every single one of them.

So you’d think with so many amazing people in my life I’d have a tough time choosing who to bring with me to the show. As much as I wanted to take each and every one of them, plus some others, it was a no brainer for me who I was going take. 25 years ago this summer my mom’s worst nightmare came true when the cabin I was in exploded. From the day she first became a mom (eventually there would be 7 of us kids in total), my mom’s first fear came to her – she never wanted any of her kids to get burned. She witnessed the horrible physical and emotional pain a burn survivor can go through when she was just a kid. Kids she grew up with next door were burned when someone threw a fire cracker into their tent. It scarred her in a different way, for life. I’m a mom now to three amazing kids, and I ache when they stub their toe. Despite her heart breaking, she stayed with me in the hospital. Her and my dad were by my side for every tear, every painful procedure, every laugh. Not once did I see my mom cry or show any signs of weakness. Years later when I became a mom and felt what unconditional love truly was, I asked her how she stayed so strong while I was healing. She looked at me and said, “Joy, you didn’t see me in my room before I went to bed”. That broke my heart. Of course, the explosion was 100% an accident. But that didn’t stop me from hurting for what my mom went through. And not just my mom – my entire family.  Their lives changed forever on July 25, 1993 as well. But that’s for a whole other blog – coming July 2018. I knew that my mom was the one who needed to be by my side when my dream of seeing you live came true.

Mom and me
My mom brushing my hair just before the surgery to graft my face – the doctors had to shave my head to take skin from my scalp for that grafting

So finally the day came. I dropped my kids off at my sisters, picked my mom up and we were off to Calgary. Part of me was still thinking that maybe this was all still a dream. I couldn’t actually be going to see Ellen DeGeneres, was I??

Kids and dream
My kids all pitched in and made a sign for me to bring to the show.

Now, anyone who knows me, knows I’m a crier. So it’s no surprise to them that I cried a few times that night. I wish I could say that the first tear I shed that evening was when you came out on stage. But that wouldn’t be true. Although you brought on the tears a few times with certain things you said, the first set of tears came during the last song that the Tenors sang just before you came out. I can’t remember what the song was called, but it was all about dreams. Believing in your dreams. It was beautiful – because I’m a HUGE believer in my dreams and working to making them come true.

So to the point of this blog/letter to you – I wanted to thank you. First, for coming to Canada and so close to my hometown. Considering it was your only Canadian show, I feel so incredibly lucky that I was able to go.  Second, thank you for being you. From the second you walked out on stage with a hockey stick in hand in tribute to the Humboldt Broncos and kissed it before you put it down, it was obvious to everyone in that stadium that you really do care about everyone, even those you’ve never met.

Photo credit: Calgary Herald

There wasn’t a second of the show I didn’t enjoy. It was easily one of the best nights of my life, and I was so happy to have shared it with my mom. My only regret – not bringing a pen and paper. With almost everything you said that night, I was inspired even more to just keep chasing my dream (aka just keep swimming).  You are my inspiration.

Ellen in calgary
I only took two photos while you were being interviewed. I was too busy taking mental notes

So Ellen, I will see you later this year at some point. I’m going to let myself be greedy and see you twice in one year; I will still be planning a trip to LA to come see your talk show. It’s my gift to myself for surviving 25 years ago and living positively every day since that explosion, despite all the challenges I’ve faced having to live a “scarred” but beautiful life.

Me in calgary



Help Me Get Ellen’s Attention!! Please!

This summer, July 25, 2018 will mark 25 years of me being a burn survivor. For the past 10 years or so, I realized that I was burned for a reason – to help others. OK, my accident WAS an accident. A freak accident. I wasn’t supposed to get burned. No one is. I learned I couldn’t dwell in self misery and pity my whole life. Instead, I wear my scars with pride and hold my head up high. And with this being 25 years, I can’t help but feel like this is the year my dream will come true…


I devote my life now to helping others, in many ways. However, I decided that I was going to do something for me this year to celebrate my 25 year burn anniversary. Out of everything I could do, I ultimately decided a couple years ago that I would go to LA at some point this year and try and get tickets to the Ellen show; my gift to myself.

I haven’t made it to LA…yet. The  year is just started. That’s not the point of this blog, or why I need you to help me get Ellen’s attention. Ellen is coming to Calgary (which is only 3.5 hours from  my home) this Saturday, April 21, 2018 for a moderated Q&A, “A Conversation With Ellen”. When I realized she was coming, I wanted to go so bad. But having three kids on a single income, it didn’t seem like it’d happen as there was not enough time to save money for the tickets. But then, at Easter, my entire family and members of my husband’s family presented me with a beautiful card and two tickets to see Ellen in Calgary this weekend. It was their gift to me for my burn anniversary later this year. I still can’t believe I’m going. I’M GOING TO SEE ELLEN!!!!! The woman who thrives on making dreams come true…I’m getting closer to how you can help me….closer to my dream coming true…I hope.


On July 25, 1993 my mom’s worst nightmare came true when the cabin I was in exploded. Her 9 year old little girl was burned with 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 45% of her body and I was scarred forever. For this reason, and also because she is my mom and the strongest woman I know, she will be the one sitting next to me this Saturday when we go see Ellen. I made her worst fear come true the day I got burned (obviously not on purpose) so I feel it’s only right that she’s there with me when my dream comes true. My mom hasn’t left my side in my 34 years on earth, and especially not in my 25 years as a burn survivor. She’s dried every tear and held me when she couldn’t end the pain. She’s cheered me on in every endeavor I’ve taken, and she too believes in my dream. She believes in me. My whole family does.

My mom brushing my hair just before it was to be shaved off for my face graft

I’ve called and researched and asked – how does a moderated Q&A work? I’ve only ever been to concerts so I’m a newbie at this. How do we submit questions for Ellen to answer? Turns out, no one really knows. My mom and I will be sitting in the front row of section 219 (FYI Ellen) and I hope she’ll see my hand waving in the air. I’ll probably make a sign in hopes she’ll see that too. I will do everything (non crazy) to try and get Ellen to hear my question. Which is ultimately, to hear my dream.


Easter was 3 weeks ago – and I haven’t stopped thinking about what question I’d like to ask Ellen. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I need to make it count. It needs to be perfect. I have ONE chance. My chance could slip away…but not if I can help it. I’m known to be a dreamer, and a doer. If I want something bad enough, I’ll work my butt off to make it happen. So that brings me to the point of this blog and why I need YOU to help me get Ellen’s attention. All I need you to do, is share this blog. You never know if she or someone she knows will see it! The internet is a wonderful creation – and has been the gateway to making dreams come true. I have a dream – a big one. A good one. A beautiful one. A dream I’ve been working on and towards for years – a dream that answers the question I yearned to know the answer to, “why did I get burned?”.

Everything is lining up perfectly in my dream – well, almost perfectly. It hasn’t come true, yet. But I truly believe that if Ellen could hear it, she’d believe in it as much as I do – it’s that good. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll help me make my dream come true.

This world is in need of a lot more love, acceptance and understanding. For too long, I felt alone as a burn survivor. Like no one understood what I was going thru – not even other burn survivors. I felt scared, sad, angry. I would pray asking God, “why? Why me?” for so long. Well, he finally showed me why. I was burned because he knew I could handle it – OK wait. Not quite. I don’t believe God planned for me to get burned. But it did happen, so he helped me thru it and he is now answering my question as to why –  I want to help others who have been thru a traumatic experience at some point in their lives. I want to help people like me, so they too can not feel alone in their pain. Not just burn survivors. Anyone who has an incredible story of survival.  I want to help others to rise above their traumatic experience and live their life holding their heads high with pride for what they went thru – and survived. Like I did. I don’t cover or hide my scars. I never have. I’m proud of them. They tell my story.

Me and Julene on her bday
Me in the hospital, just over a week after my accident.

My dream is to help others in a new way. A big way. I’ve worked so hard on this dream, I believe in it, and I truly believe it will happen one day. Because it’s exactly what the world needs. It may not be what I was born for, but I truly believe it was what I was burned for. My dream is too big for a simple blog or for me to read to her on Saturday if I’m given the opportunity; but I will have it printed out and ready to hand to Ellen for her to read when she has time. So, my question for Ellen is this:

Ellen, can I hand my dream to you? I’m not a musician or actress – but handing out audition tapes or head shots is how so many people make their dreams come true. So I figured that this isn’t really any different – I have my dream and the background with me today – can I give it to you? All I need is someone to believe in it as much as I do, and I think you could be that person. You resemble love, acceptance and you have proven that dreams do come true. If you could read it in your own time, that alone is a dream come true.

25 years


What If I’m Not Grateful For Anything?

Did your parents, or grandparents, tell you often to “count your blessings”? This was something I didn’t understand at all as a kid. But is there a kid who does? When you’re a kid, the world is all about you. You don’t have the maturity to think about others outside your circle. Everything you need is given to you. So it made it harder to count your blessings, and easier to take things for granted.


I was in a propane explosion when I was nine years old. Although this almost killed me, and left me with scars all over my body, as a kid and teenager I didn’t think I was lucky. Sure I was glad I didn’t die, but I didn’t consider surviving a blessing. I mean, I had scars all over my body. I looked like and felt like a freak. What the heck did I have to be grateful for? I remember crying in the hospital and after going home asking why did this happen to me? I was in so much pain. Physical, emotional, mental. Everything hurt…I had nothing to be grateful for.

But then I grew up. I realized the explosion was quite serious and I could have very easily died or been blown into a wall and hurt even more than I already was. I’ve met burn survivors who lost fingers, noses, ears. Burn survivors who can’t walk or talk very well anymore. I got away with having scar tissue. For this I am grateful.

Enough about me for a second. We live in a sometimes greedy, selfish, egotistical world (not all the time, but more and more). What if, every day, we took the time and gave something that we’re grateful to have, to someone who doesn’t have much? I’m not talking about giving money or goods away all the time. I’m talking about things like giving someone a smile who looks like they’re not having a good day. A smile is something so simple, and I bet you that it’ll make someone’s day – and they’ll be able to turn around and be grateful for that.


Seeing a parent struggle with kids and the grocery cart in the parking lot. Why not offer 5 min of your time and offer to help load the groceries in their vehicle for them. I’m certain that parent will go home and re-think about what you just did and they’ll be grateful for your kindness.

If you just can’t make someone else’s day, and give something that you may take for granted to someone who would be thankful for it, then we need to at least count our blessings more often. I try to count my blessings every day. I am SO blessed! I have a roof over my head, food in my fridge, clothes on my back, three amazing kids, a loving and supportive husband, and an incredible family. But I’m far from perfect – I know there are some things that I have that I take for granted.


So, with that said, I would like to propose the following: Thankful Thursday. Every Thursday I will post a status, or photo, or video about something I am thankful for that day. Or maybe something I’m grateful for earlier that week. Or last year. Or 10 years ago. It doesn’t matter when or what it is – as long as we take the time to appreciate all that we have, and if/when possible, share with someone a little less fortunate.

Every one is going through something at one time or another. Take a minute. Pause. Breath. And just remember, that there is someone in the world fighting to survive. So at the very least, you can be thankful that you have breath in your lungs. One breath at a time.