How I Made This Summer One of My Best

Well, the inevitable came. Snow. Way too early, but I live in Alberta…it was coming. It’s the middle of September and as I’m sitting here writing this, there’s a bunch of white crap falling from the sky onto my lawn that desperately needed a mow and rake (that’ll be fun 🙄). My kids have been back at school now for just over a week – and I’ve been thrilled to be back into routine…but man do I ever miss summer.

Accurately portrays me this morning, when I saw the snow…summer, please come back

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for three summers now. This past one being my third. The first two summers I was bound and determined to make them the best summers ever for my kids (Ciara and Paxton had previously spent every summer of their lives in daycare).

That was my first mistake…focusing so much on making it a great summer just for my kids…and forgetting about me. I matter too. I deserve a good summer too, with more than just my kids in the memories. I love my kids more than anything – but they’re not my entire life. I would die for them – but I also want to live. So before the haters start hating let me just say this…


…and let me do me.

So how was this summer the best? I spent time with people who make me laugh, make me feel good. Good people. This is everyone from family, my kids, my husband, and of course my friends. I’ve made my circle. I made choices on what to do this summer, based solely on what I want to do with those in my circle. I didn’t revolve summer plans around just my kids.

I can feel it – the judgy moms are judging! But hear me out…my kids are the biggest part of my circle. I didn’t put them in camps, or sports this past summer. We just lived each day as it came and made plans on the fly most of the time. We made memories, without feeling like we HAD to. If you were to ask my kids if they enjoyed summer, each of them will say they had. They spent time with their friends, family and we even had some days where we just laid around and did nothing…and it was wonderful. I know…it felt wrong at first to me too.

kids 1
On our way to go camping in the mountains with family!

My husband had to work most of the summer, with just a few hours at home at any given time. But we made sure to use every second of his time at home by spending time together as a family – and making sure all of our buckets were full before he had to leave again. We cherished every minute together, because we had no idea when the next one would be or if it’d be even shorter. It is thanks to my husband working so hard that I was able to enjoy summer so much.

My kids aren’t the only ones I wanted to make memories with. I spent time away from the kids; laughing and making memories with other adults. Some of these friends aren’t parents so some of those nights weren’t even filled with kid talk! Some of these memories are so great that I can’t remember them all unless reminded…


Not only did I make sure to make time and memories with my friends, but I was also careful with who I choose to spend time with. Let’s face it – summer is always too short. There’s never enough of it. I wanted to be sure to spend time with people who lifted me up, made me feel good and the less drama the better! The past few years I’ve made note of how I felt when leaving a get together with someone – did I feel drained or full?

I spent time with those people in my life who make me feel full – and because of that, my memories this summer are full of love, laughter, and in some cases, new friendships were formed.

Now again – summer is short. And I am blessed to have many positive, up-lifting, good people in my life. I did not get the chance to spend as much time with some people as I had wanted – but that’s just because life got in the way and summer is short! But that doesn’t mean I love you any less! If anything I love you even more – because our friendship/relationship doesn’t suffer if we only get a chance to see each other once in awhile.



Did I mention, summer is short? Short but oh so sweet. But just because my favorite season is over, doesn’t mean I can’t make this the best winter ever (apparently mother nature just wants to skip over Fall this year). And then the best Spring and then before I know it, it’ll be Summer again and next summer will be even better than this one. And without realizing it – all of a sudden I’m living the best life I could have ever hoped for (still some dreams floating out there).

Live in the moment. And cherish your moments. Give value to yourself and your time. Choose your circle based on who makes you feel good – and then love them hard. Summer isn’t the only thing that’s short – so is life. Make it your best life.

Not just one – multiple. My circle. And it goes both ways.



I’ll Always Remember…

I’ll always remember the day my nine years of life was blown away from me. Literally. Tragically. It happened 25 years ago today. July 25, 1993.

I’ll always remember the last walk I took before the explosion. I was walking by myself, towards incredible danger, I just didn’t know it. I also didn’t know that I wasn’t really by myself. I remember having this weird feeling in my stomach as I was walking towards the cabin where my toys were. I didn’t know that this walk would be the last walk I would ever take, as me. To this day, I firmly believe that weird feeling I had, was God or some kind of divine intervention trying to tell me to stop, turn around – do not go into that cabin.

I’ll always remember the awful smell as I walked into the cabin. I didn’t know what it was. I remember looking and seeing the propane stove burner was turned to on but there was no flame or anything cooking. So I just shut it off.

I’ll always remember reaching for the lighter. The lighter that my aunt had previously given explicit instructions that only my older sister was allowed to use. But I needed some light; the cabin had no electricity. It was just a lighter anyway. What’s the worst that could happen? If only I knew.

I’ll always remember lighting the lighter.

Mess inside after explosion
Photo property of Joy Zylstra

I’ll always remember opening my eyes and seeing millions of sparks covering the carpet of the cabin. I remember being scared and screaming.

I’ll always remember seeing my dad work frantically to cut my clothes off and wrap me in freezing cold drenched towels. I remember my dad picking me up in his arms and turning around to carry me up to the truck.

I’ll always remember the look on my oldest sister’s face when my dad turned me around. Her hands were covering her mouth, her eyes wide with fear, repeating the words “Oh My God” over and over. I remember looking over to my left arm when I saw her face, and I saw a large flap of skin barely hanging on.

I’ll always remember that as the moment I knew I wasn’t ok. I was hurt, badly.
I’ll always remember the first time I heard about my mom’s reaction, I wasn’t there to see it, for that I’m grateful. My dad had sent my mom up to our trailer to get some ice, mainly to get her out of the way, so he could help me without a hysterical mother getting in the way, just like any mother would be if her baby was badly hurt. When she ran back from the trailer with the ice in hand she saw that my dad, uncle and I were already gone. My mom dropped the ice, fell to her knees and just started crying, praying, screaming “MY BABY! MY BABY!”.

Me first in hospital
Photo property of Joy Zylstra

I’ll always remember my uncle speeding to get us to an ambulance. My dad holding me the entire drive. Talking to me. Making sure I didn’t fall asleep. I remember being so tired. Not in any pain…yet. I’ll never forget how my dad saved my life that day.

I’ll always remember my dad pounding on the ambulance shack door, the EMT’s taking less than a second to open it, and my dad yelling at them “WHAT THE HELL TOOK YOU SO LONG?”. He handed me – his badly hurt baby girl – to them. He probably won’t admit it, but this is the moment when my dad was allowed to break down. To lose his cool. He did everything he could for me. Now it was up to the pros – and god. He was finally allowed to be scared. And he was. My whole family was. No cell phones meant no communication. My mom, siblings and aunt – all left at the cabin, had no idea what just happened or if I was ok. Or alive.

25 years ago today, when I was just nine years old, I was in a propane explosion. I didn’t die. But the Joy who walked into that cabin, did not come back out. I was left with 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 45% of my body. Countless surgeries, never-ending prayers, unconditional support from friends and family, 5 weeks in a hospital bed – and not one of those days was I ever alone.

My parents were by my side the entire time. Taking turns being with me, working and taking care of my siblings. But I was their main focus for so long. I was all they thought about. All they talked about. They were so strong. I didn’t see my mom break down once – years later she’d tell me that’s because she’d wait until she got to her room for the night – it was in her room, alone, where I wouldn’t see her pain, where she would let it all out. All her fear, pain, uncertainty, tears. There was one time I remember my dad leaving my hospital room and as he got to the door he turned around and said “I love you Joy”. His words cracking as he fought back tears.

There are some things I remember from the explosion and hospital. Some things I don’t remember, but I’m told about – to this day my dad will tell the story of my accident with such pride. My mom stays a little more quiet when we talk about it, the painful memories possibly still a little too painful.

I don’t remember seeing my face for the first time after my grafting. My arms and legs were right there so I couldn’t help but see them; I saw the bloody, gross, “new” skin that I would have to live with forever. I can remember the pain. Excruciating. So incredibly painful. Indescribable. It hurt to cry. It hurt to smile. It hurt to move. It hurt to lay still. Eventually it would hurt to exist.

Face after grafting 3
Photo property of Joy Zylstra

I remember my family being there, completely. Every single step of the way of my healing journey. My dad would tell us, “Normal doesn’t exist for us anymore. We need to find a new normal”. Not only was I not “normal” anymore, with permanent scars covering my body, but all our lives had changed. Forever.

As the years passed, it felt like I would never be normal again. And yet that’s all I wanted. I just wanted to be a regular kid. A regular teenager who would have crushes and be crushed on. Oh I had crushes alright. But what teenage boy would ever want to date a girl with scars. The constant pain of feeling unwanted, unlovable because of my scars would follow me from my teenage years into my adult years.

I remember crying myself to sleep more nights than not. Scratching at the scars on my face, praying that I could wake up and they be gone. It wasn’t fair. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t know lighting that lighter would make me look like a freak. Like a monster. With alligator skin. Or chicken skin, as some people liked to call it. I didn’t know. I was just a child. Nothing about this was fair. If you had told me that one day I would learn to love my scars, (which my mom did often), I would have called you crazy (which I did. Sorry mom). That day eventually came.

Me and Jess 2
Photo property of Joy Zylstra

The pain I’ve felt since the day of the explosion is pain like nothing I could even begin to describe. The physical pain sucked. But it ended. The emotional pain stayed. It’s still there. I do wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t been burned. I wonder what I would look like, who I would be, where I would be. My dad would tell me all the time “No Pain, No Gain” – I hated it at the time. Now, those are words I live by.

I tried to end the pain on three separate occasions. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I was constantly suffering. Struggling. Hurting. I didn’t know how to be ok. I didn’t know how to love myself the way I was. I thought everything would be ok, I would be ok, my family would be ok, if I just died.

Becoming a mom changed all that. I knew I had to change. The long journey of learning to love myself and love my scars, began the second I looked into my daughter’s eyes for the first time. I wanted her to look up to me, not feel sorry for me. I wanted her to see strength, beauty, and love when she looked at me. I knew that if I wanted that from her, I had to give it to myself first.

Me and Julene on her bday
Photo property of Joy Zylstra

While learning to love myself and every single scar on my body, I realized, finally, that my family suffered too. For too long. They went thru hell, just as long as I did. Just a different kind of hell. They had no choice but to watch me suffer, hurt and cry. They felt helpless – what could they do? I want them to know that they did everything they were supposed to do. 25 years ago up to today, and I have no doubt for the rest of my life I can turn around and they’ll still be there.

I don’t want to diminish what my siblings, extended family and friends, and everyone else who was incredible support towards my family and I went thru, it will never be forgotten. But there are two people who I think really need a medal of honor, bravery, heroism. My parents.

Imagine sitting in a lawn chair, it’s a hot summer day. You’re relaxing. Visiting. Making memories. Little did my parents know at the time, when they heard the explosion, it was the beginning of a lifelong, heartbreaking, life-changing, on-going memory that they too won’t be able to forget.

Imagine hearing the sound of your child screaming in utter fear. You go running to the sounds of her screams. What you see in front of you is like something from a horror film. The front wall of the cabin was blown out a couple feet, the door was jammed into the floor. Your little girl is standing in the middle of the cabin. Something didn’t look right with her. She had a dazed look on her face. She was bloody.

Sleeping bag through wall
The explosion caused all the logs and roof to lift up – this is my sister’s sleeping bag blown thru the wall. Photo property of Joy Zylstra

Now imagine seeing your child lying in a hospital bed. Head swollen to the size of two basketballs, arms and legs just as swollen. She’s sedated. It’s unclear if she’ll survive the night.

Imagine being told that you might want to start thinking about a funeral for your nine year old child, as she lays in a hospital bed – secluded. You can’t hold her, touch her, hug her, you can’t even dry her tears.

Imagine seeing your child having their healthy skin removed and stapled on to the burns. Seeing her wince every time something as small as her toe had to move. Seeing her cry and hearing her swearing at god for letting this happen to her. You can’t cry too. Not yet. You have to stay strong. For your little girl. You have to. If you break down, she’ll have nothing left to hold on to. But you feel so helpless. You can’t do anything to make her feel better, to make the pain end.

In hospital
Photo property of Joy Zylstra

What my parents went thru is something I hope I never have to experience. I’d rather go thru the explosion again a million times over than experience the hell my parents saw and felt 25 years ago. My parents are the strongest people I know.

I wanted to do something special and memorable to mark my 25 year anniversary. I didn’t want it to be looked at as a tragedy – but instead an experience that made me the woman I am today. I want my parents and everyone else to see that I really am ok. And maybe, probably, I need to see it for myself.

25 years 1
Photo by Jerry Cordeiro

This photo shoot was emotional. I thought I was strong enough for it, and I was, for the most part. But there was a couple times when I couldn’t hold back the tears. I wanted to show my strength. Jerry, I don’t know how I can ever thank you for capturing exactly what I was feeling in my heart, my soul – it’s like you knew, without me being able to describe what I wanted. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for giving this gift to me. It means more to me than you’ll ever know. The photos captured what I needed to have captured. They show that I’m stronger than what tried to kill me. Which is how I finally feel. Propane still scares me, but I don’t let it control me. I am in control of my life and how I react to what happens in it.

25 years 2
Photo by Jerry Cordeiro

The location of the photo shoot was perfect – the only thing that would have been more perfect would have been the actual cabin – but I’m not sure I would have been able to handle being back in there. I went once, and it was hard. Larysa – thank you so much for finding this building and thinking of me when you saw it. You have an eye for that kind of thing and it really was absolutely perfect. Thank you so much for that and for all your help during and after! These photos, this shoot, is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.

25 years 4
Photo by Jerry Cordeiro

Finally, I’d like to end this with advice to anyone who is going thru their own hell. Advice given to me from the two people in my life who are true heroes. My heroes. As my dad would say, “No Pain, No Gain”. Those words I hated while I was healing but have grown to love and respect them – because it’s so true. I went thru a lot of pain, and I’ve gained so much because of it. And, as my mom would say, “have faith”. I asked her a few years ago how she survived this tragedy. She told me she prayed. A lot. And just kept having faith that everything would be ok. Eventually, it was. Today it is.

Although I will always remember July 25, 1993 – I am ok. I am strong. I am a survivor.

25 years 3
Photo by Jerry Cordeiro


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


Introducing the third team member of the new Humans of Edmonton Experience…Neil

Introducing to the team: Neil Kennedy…

Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

I learned the true meaning of hard work at a very young age. My folks made sure we had food on the table, a roof over our heads but more importantly a loving family.

Living on the farm we learned the true meaning of hard work. We were part of a small community and we all contributed to each other’s livelihood. We all trusted each other even when strangers came around, they were treated like family. But I soon learnt that trusting someone doesn’t mean they are trustworthy.

There was a stranger who would frequently visit the farm. He was always kind to the kids, giving out treats and making us laugh but I learned later he was a monster. He sexually abused me and stole my innocence. I knew I should tell my mom, but I didn’t want to burden her because she was going through hell of her own. My dad was killed in a hunting accident and she lost the love of her life. That man finally stopped coming around. I don’t know what ended up happening to him but growing up I always hoped to see him again one day to settle the score.

My whole family had to relocate to Edmonton. We had no money for a home of our own so we relied on the generosity of family and friends. We all ended up going our separate ways, just trying to survive the best we could.

We were all broken kids, we lost our home, our dad, we just lost all hope. I saw my sister take her last breath. I was losing everyone that I loved. I had so much anger inside of me and no way of understanding how to deal with all of the pain, I turned it into learning how to live on the streets. I turned to drugs and alcohol because I didn’t want to feel anymore. I was homeless for years and my new home was the inner city and my new family were it’s people. I came to rely on the Bissell Centre and the The Mustard Seed for my basic needs like food, clothing and a hot cup of coffee.

One day while I was at the The Mustard Seed centre, I thought, I could help out. What my parents taught me still stayed with me and I wanted to give back to the organization that was there for me. I asked the staff if I could volunteer and that is the day my life started to take a turn. It felt good to give back, it felt good to have a purpose and help those who became my family. I cleaned the tables and did whatever was needed. I volunteered at Bissell Centre centre as well and as much as I could and realized helping gave me back purpose and a direction that has carried me through to this day. I ended up being hired on at the Bissell centre and have volunteered and worked there for over 20 years.

I have moved on from there and now I dedicate my time and my life in helping out in the inner city and those who are less fortunate. They are my family and I work to ensure we have what we need everyday.

To the Humans of Edmonton Experience, I bring over 40 years of experience in the inner city. I will be doing inner city walks to show people what it’s like to live on the streets and explain what the different agencies in the city do to help with homelessness. One of the biggest reasons I want to give back is because I owe it to myself to be kind to all those have help me and to show my son and daughter that I have not seen in years what I have become.

My strength is my compassion and to always strive to make a difference in this world. I am very proud of where I have come from to where I am now, life couldn’t have been a lot different.

I received the Diamond Jubilee Award from the Queen for recognition for volunteering in my country, a plaque from the Legislative Assembly of Alberta in Recognition of Human Rights, the Human Rights Award nominated by Canadian Mental Health Association, Alberta’s Promise Award for my commitment to youth and children, Outstanding Service of an Individual from the Bissell Centre, 2006 Volunteer of the year from the Bissell Centre and the Commitment to Volunteerism.

When I was born I had no clothing and no pockets and that’s the way I’m going out.

Neil 2
Photo: Humans of Edmonton Experience

#Scarrednotbroken #IheartEdmonton #humansofedmontonexperience

Scarred, Not Broken Has Teamed Up

Just over a year ago, I started my Facebook page, Scarred, Not Broken. It grew into Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and this blog site. The reason I felt that I needed to start Scarred, Not Broken is because I once was a very broken soul. I felt so alone, scared, hurt. The worst of these was the feeling of being alone.


For most of my life, I felt like no one understood what it was like to be a burn survivor…except other burn survivors. Scarred, Not Broken was intended to bring love, understanding and acceptance to any one who is or has struggled with a traumatic or life altering event.

I became so passionate about helping others. It’s all I can think about most days – how can I help more people?

When my friend Jerry, who created Humans of Edmonton Experience, reached out to me and asked if I’d be willing to join a team of once lost and broken souls, to do exactly what I was trying to do on my own – I jumped at the opportunity. One person can help a lot of people if they really try – but just imagine how many people a team can help. This team is probably the best team there could ever be. We come from diverse backgrounds and struggles, but the one thing we have in common is we’ve all been judged and felt lonely in our darkest hour. Because of this, we’re the last ones to lay judgement – we know how it feels.


“Each of the four of us has our own story and struggle. We are survivors of homelessness, mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, discrimination, bullying, and poverty. We have been brought together to help bring awareness, acceptance and to give a voice to those that need to be heard.

Our mission is to feature real people with real stories that are raw, honest and inspiring by photographing, interviewing and sharing their personal experiences with care, compassion and acceptance.” – Humans of Edmonton Experience


Being part of this team means so much to me – I’m  not alone in my mission to help those who struggle with acceptance and love. We’re in this together, and together we will change the world.

For those who do not follow on Facebook, the next four blog posts will be introducing the members of this team. I hope you’ll support and follow our journey in helping others. This is going to be life changing for so many people – and it’s going to be huge. You’ll want to be part of it, trust me.

You can follow Humans of Edmonton Experience on Facebook by clicking here.