'I'm going to keep fighting the beast'
Spending two minutes on the phone or in person with Mitzi (Tomasek) Buckingham makes you realize what a gift life truly is. Her positivity amid a current serious health battle makes you feel guilty for complaining about a headache.
Buckingham, who graduated from Minneota High School in 1980, has every reason in the world to be bitter, angry, or feel sorry for herself. But that's not the route she seems to be taking despite having stage-4 pancreatic cancer and stage-4 colon cancer.
Even more amazing is that the two cancers are unrelated, doctors told her.
"I've never been angry at God or anyone," she insists. "I've had a wonderful life. I've had wonderful parents. I have wonderful kids and grandkids. I have wonderful friends. And I have Jesus."
The friends she refers to are her "Mitzi's Prayer Warriors", which consist of those family members and friends who have supported her during this ordeal and are fundraising to defray the family's medical expenses.Mitzi and her husband, Scott, have been married for 37 years.
"It's been tough on him, too," Mitzi says. "But he's always there for me. He's been great."
The Buckingham family also includes two daughters, Kelli Gamrak and Kristi Kennedy. Kelli and her husband Adam have four children, Payton, Jayden, Matthew and Levi. Kristi and her husband Lennis have two children, Ethan and Ella.
"That's the sad part," she said. " I love my girls and sons-in-law and grandkids. I want to see the grandkids grow up."
Even though doctors give her only one to two years more of life, Mitzi swats those numbers away like a pesky fly at a picnic.
"I'm going to do everything in my power to keep fighting the beast," she insists.
Even Buckingham's friends are amazed at her glass "half-full" attitude in the midst of such trying times.
"Mitzi is just such a great person," said Robin Boe Traen, who graduated with Mitzi and has been friends with her for many years. "She is so positive and has an amazing outlook. That has to do with her strong faith."
Buckingham's first sign of any illness cancer came in October of 2019.
"I remember having a queasy stomach. It felt like morning sickness, but I knew it wasn't that," she said. "My daughter is a nurse and she stopped over and noticed my eyes were jaundiced and she knew something was wrong."
Generally, the yellowing of the eyes is related to the liver. Within two days, her whole body had taken on a yellowish hue.
The next morning, Buckingham had a CAT scan at Avera in Marshall which showed there was an abnormality. An MRI at midnight showed the likelihood of a tumor on her pancreas.
"What was happening was that the tumor was blocking the bile ducts," Buckingham explained about the reason for her jaundice. "Over the next eight days I had three surgeries. Tissue samples were sent to the Mayo Clinic where they found the tumor was malignant."
With the thought of pancreatic cancer hanging over their heads, the Buckinghams were dealt yet another blow.
"I went to an oncologist in Sioux Falls for the pancreatic cancer and when he looked at the X-rays, he saw a shadow on my colon," Buckingham said.
When Buckingham had turned 50 years old, one of her granddaughters said "Grandma, time for your colonoscopy".
"I didn't get one," admitted Buckingham. "I want to stress to everyone to make sure to get a colonoscopy. It's important. You just never know."
After having had 24 rounds of chemotherapy treatments, doctors at Mayo Clinic determined that Buckingham's body needed a rest so they have temporarily halted the chemo for now. She will return to the Mayo Clinic on Jan. 20 for a Cat scan to determine the next steps to take.
"We are so lucky to have a Cancer Center in Marshall," she said. "It is a wonderful place and the nurses are all awesome."
The tumor on the colon has shrunk and the cancer on her pancreas is stable with no new tumors.
"The goal is to keep the (pancreatic cancer) stable for a better quality of life," Buckingham said. "I know no one who has survived pancreatic cancer. That doesn't mean I'm giving up, though. I have too much to live for."
To help the Buckingham family defray medical and personal expenses, please donate to Mitzi's Warriors on GoFundMe.com or send a donation (checks should be written out to Mitzi Buckingham) to: Bank of the West, 123 N. Jefferson St., Minneota, MN 56264 or Bank of the West, 1410 E. College Dr., Marshall, MN 56258.