Even the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t put a crimp in the holiday shopping season over at Christopher Mark Fine Flowers on Grand Boulevard in downtown Brookfield. As last December dawned, owner Chris Borzym had shrugged off the cancellation of the village’s annual holiday celebration and a blowout party for the shop’s 15th anniversary.
“We were having a great December and holiday season,” said Borzym, whose “anniversary bouquets,” sold on the weekends, proved to be a hit. “It was so fun and we were having so many customers coming in.”
Everything changed on the morning of Dec. 19. Borzym awoke at 3:30 a.m. with severe pain in his abdomen and lower back. Three hours later, Borzym’s husband, Jim Deacon, drove him from their Forest Park home to the Rush Oak Park Hospital emergency room.
Many hours later, he underwent surgery to relieve a urinary tract blockage, but the news was worse than that. Doctors also informed the 62-year-old Borzym that he had Stage 4 prostate cancer, and it had metastasized into his skull, spine and the lymph nodes in his neck.
Borzym said follow-up visits to his oncologist have been hopeful. While he’ll be on medication from here on out, his doctors believe he has many years of good quality life ahead.
“Jim and I are thinking 15 to 20,” Borzym said, after a recent positive trip to the oncologist. “We’re just going to fight it, tooth and nail.”
A medical emergency was not something Borzym had planned for. Since leaving his job 15 years ago as an aide at Riverside-Brookfield High School, Borzym’s health insurance policy has been a basic one.
After all, Borzym, who was also the cheerleading coach for 17 years at RBHS, had always been hale and hearty.
“I never looked back on [deciding to go with a basic insurance policy],” Borzym said. “There was no clue, no sign there was anything wrong with me physically.”
As Borzym recovered from the surgery the week before Christmas – with a busy flower shop in holiday overdrive – the cavalry arrived – with family and friends taking on everything from flower design to deliveries. Now an online fundraiser is making sure Borzym and Deacon can cope with the medical bills that are starting to mount.
Last week, three of Borzym’s customers who have become close friends, Mary Vyskocil, Anne Kissel and Rosemary Lynch, launched a GoFundMe page, named “Calling All Angels” to raise the money. Initially, they set the goal at $25,000, but within just a couple of days more than 300 contributors had blown past that amount.
“We’re still floored. My husband, Jim, and I don’t know the words to describe it. It’s unbelievable, it’s so frickin’ humbling. One never knows the impact they have on a community. The outpouring of love and support has been amazing.”
Vyskocil said she credits Borzym with her friendship with Lynch. Both were regular customers at the flower shop and would run into each other there so regularly they struck up a rapport. Kissel was also a Christopher Mark fan who was friends with Lynch.
“Every Saturday we’d get coffee and go talk to Chris,” Vyskocil said.
After learning about Borzym’s diagnosis and insurance situation, the women approached him about how they could help and suggested the GoFundMe.
“When someone is in need of help around here, everyone wants to help in some way,” Vyskocil said. “The GoFundMe was one way people feel they can make some type of contribution.”
Vyskocil said she’s been overwhelmed by the response. The page, which can be found online at tinyurl.com/qxmyx3nj, went live Feb. 2, posted first by Borzym’s daughter, Sarah, on Facebook. The community quickly responded.
As of the morning of Feb. 9, the page had raised $38,350 from more than 400 donations, and the contributions are being funneled directly into a special account Borzym has set up to pay healthcare costs.
“It’s like the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” Vyskocil said. “I told him, ‘You’re the richest man in town.’ And it had nothing to do with us, it’s all about him.”
The GoFundMe also got a boost from Borzym’s longtime friend Marcey Raymond Kusper, a Brookfield resident who runs the Brookfield Connections group on Facebook, which has more than 11,000 members.
She is also the mom of Maxx Kusper, the 11-year-old Brookfield boy who was critically injured last March when he was struck by a train while crossing the Prairie Avenue crossing.
Borzym, who did the flowers for Marcey’s wedding as well as those for her two sisters, was among those who helped raise awareness and funds for the family as Maxx made a remarkable recovery in the following months.
“Maxx’s story has been an inspiration to me,” Borzym said.
The financial support is important not only for the medical expenses. With the pandemic shutting down business completely for a time last spring, Borzym said he has put any profits in 2020 back into the business.
“I haven’t been paid since last March,” Borzym said. “Since then, we’ve been living on Jim’s retirement income. We really can’t afford to go into our savings.”
The GoFundMe campaign has been just a part of the outpouring of support Borzym and his business has received and continues to receive.
Although Borzym himself is back at the flower shop, he finds himself tiring more quickly, so he’s only there half a day in the morning. His employee since 2012, designer Klaryse Ellis holds down the fort in the afternoons.
“It’s been a nightmare for Chris, but all the believers are coming through for him,” Ellis said. “I’m doing everything I can to help him out and trying to remain positive.”
The week before Christmas was an all-hands-on-deck affair, said Borzym. Longtime friend Eileen Piper-Simpson, who is an assistant principal of an elementary school in Berwyn as well as a flower designer, and her daughter, Maggie, came to the shop after the school day ended.
His sister, Kim Borzym and sister-in-law Jeannie Jaeger, worked the front of the shop, assisting customers, and Borzym’s friend Jimmy Johnson and nephew Ryce Borzym made deliveries.
“It was amazing the amount of work they did.”
The Witken family of North Riverside, whose child Borzym coached on the RBHS cheerleading team, has dropped off two dozen meals for Chris and Jim at their home. And as the Valentine’s Day rush approaches, Sharon Flaim is bringing in a crew from her events business Catherine’s Community Closet to help out at the shop.
Borzym has kept a journal on a website called Caring Bridge, where he’s posted photos, updates on his treatment, well wishes from friends and family and a poem he wrote called “My Cancer, My It” – his pledge to fight the disease — which he reads every day for the mental boost it provides him. Kissel was instrumental in setting up the account for Borzym.
“We’re going to make it work,” Borzym said. “It’s onward and upward. We don’t allow any negativity.”