An intrepid eagle is said to symbolize courage and strength. A gracious dove suggests hope, while a gallant nightingale denotes love. And it is the daring red cardinal that exemplifies faith. Poppy Zurcher has much in common with each of these birds as she is a woman who has defined her life’s trials with courage, strength, love and, most importantly, faith.
“Faith is the bird who sings while it is still dark.”
This quote is placed prominently on Poppy’s “wall of love,” a wall that is sprinkled with reflections of meaningful people in her life, spiritual reminders of how far she has come and tokens from the many lives she has touched. Poppy is a woman who has lead a life so full of miraculous stories that the wonderment seems to jump from the pores of her skin. When she speaks of her truth, tears may escape her sparkling eyes, not because she has had great dealings with pain, but because she has traveled through this pain and along the journey has learned the most profound lessons about herself. She will tell you that the most significant of these was from her father, and it is one that has stayed with her a lifetime.
Born in Greece and the last of a family of 10, Poppy was unique from the start as a blemish on her leg would signal the beginning of a sequence of illnesses. By the age of 18 months, she would receive a cancer diagnosis which would be the first of seven. While this could be seen as the foundation for a dismal existence, it is actually these trials that have helped shape her into developing distinctive coping strategies. It was once believed that she would never walk, but in a truly determined fashion, at the age of 4, Poppy picked herself from the floor and stood on her own. This would not be the last time she would pick herself up and find a way to move forward.
Poppy’s parents were diligent workers whose humble earnings were just enough to keep them comfortable. Her father taught her to keep herself busy as to not muddy her mind with the pain that was wreaking havoc on her body. When she was 5, he taught her how to make bread, and at 7, she obtained her first job, making bread and doing chores for a wealthy family. Every day she would carry a bag with three bricks she used to help her stand as several surgeries rendered one leg shorter, and for this, her pay came in the form of food and hand-me-downs. But, she was unwavering in her desire to be known as a hard worker and not as the little disabled girl. It became evident that the health care she needed was an expense that her family could not afford, so when friends of her employer offered to adopt her and bring her to America, Poppy’s birth family made the ultimate sacrifice and agreed. At 13, this young woman who had already endured so much was about to embark on another life-altering experience in coming to America. Her father shared these words:
“Little one you are born to be a blessing. Your story has just begun.”
And to her adopting family:
“Don’t allow her to be in pain. Make her work.”
This has become Poppy’s mantra and every time she is bedridden, or “in trouble,” a term she uses in place of cancer, she stays busy. This busyness has made her more productive than the most skilled assembly line. She has made more than 400 blankets for patients which have been distributed to Children’s Mercy. She invested much time writing down family traditions and recipes which translated into a book that has not only helped pull her through but is now doing the same for others. To date, it has been printed and reprinted with a portion of those proceeds going to breast cancer research at the University of Kansas and the Interstitial Cystitis Association. Then, when trouble arrived once more, she wrote a second book, and her cycle of giving and healing continues including personal fundraising to Cancer Action. But her busyness does not end there. Poppy now has a jewelry business that was birthed after a shoulder injury kept her up at night, and she decided stringing beads would be therapeutic. Staying busy has truly given her strength.
“Do something. No medicine, no doctor can heal you until your heart is at peace,” she says. “Capture the hope, the gift of coping and use it as a remedy. Nothing is possible without my faith in God. I just hope I am worthy.”
Poppy has to give credit where credit is due.
Poppy is a bit of a medical phenom whose name you will find in medical journals. She has two life-changing devices in her body, she has had several failed surgeries, and she has overcome more than the average person. But what she really wants the world to know is that her life has been nothing but a blessing. She was blessed with not one, but two families that taught her strength, morals and ethics. She is blessed with a full life, a loving husband who has stood by her side for 47 years and two beautiful children. And, just like a brave bird who soars into the unknown, she is faithful. She is Poppy.
“If I cannot talk about my faith, then I cannot talk about who I am,” she says. “My talk is not about pity. My talk is about hope.”