Burns: More than a promise to daughter

Cancer, of all things, has brought so many wonderful people into my life. Some of these are people The Alpena News covered two days ago in Thursday’s “Hope and Heroes” supplement. Many of those I’ve met since the beginning of Friends Together and I now simply call “friends.”

The news of cancer brings a deep sense of loneliness and it seems as though a dense fog sets in. Our first thought was, “who can help us?” At least that’s how I and my family experienced it with my daughter, Dawn. I think few would survive if we were all left to battle cancer alone. Dawn and I learned this lesson well through our two-year journey.

So, when I promised Dawn that I would do what was necessary so that our neighbors right here in Alpena would not have to face cancer alone, I thought I had an idea of what that promise meant. And now, after 17 years, I would reflect and say, “Little did I know!”

Although I made the promise directly to Dawn, I have come to a greater realization that the promise also extended to those living in our own community. And this mother’s promise went much further than ever expected.

Friends Together started with just one story; the story of Dawn and my family. Now, we have hundreds, maybe thousands, of stories to tell. The common denominator in each of those is the cancer experience, but each story is unique and precious. The stories are laced with a single theme – we survive and thrive by being together. We make a difference by supporting each other. We commit that no one must go through the experience of cancer all alone.

Is Friends Together a lifeline? Is it a link in a lifeline? Or maybe are we the anchor? We are different things to different people. For some we provide transportation assistance. For others we provide a warm embrace and time taken to listen. For many it’s the comfort of coming together with a shared experience and insight. What I do know is that it is life-giving as our friends struggle with their “new normal,” trying to find their way. Frank Sinatra sang that he “did it my way.” In contrast, I think the lyrics of those great songs about “it takes two of us” or “he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” have it right. They were “singing our song” so to speak.

This past year I was so inspired by the commitment of a young woman from the Oscoda area. A recent college graduate hoping to begin her career as a teacher, she put aside her dreams for a while to care for her father. While her peers went out to enjoy life as young adults do, she moved home to be the caregiver. She cared for his every need. She was there at his side when he died. She is a hero, and her story fills me with pride every time I think about her courage as the caregiver. As one young mother shared with me after her cancer diagnosis, “When I got cancer, my whole family got cancer.”

I am so very grateful to the people of Northeast Michigan for continuing the promise that no one here should have to go through cancer alone. Donors, volunteers, staff, board members, our medical community – all of you are absolutely necessary. Because of all of you, I have been able to keep the promise I made to Dawn.

No – no one could ever do this alone!