Charlotte, N.C. – October 22, 2012 – Fort Mill, S.C., resident Cayce Burwell was 25 and engaged to be married. While trying on her wedding dress, she noticed a mole on her back. Not thinking much of it, she made an appointment and had the mole removed and biopsied. Two weeks later the dermatologist’s office called and said it was melanoma. In an instant, she went from being an excited bride to a cancer patient.
Because there wasn’t enough healthy tissue around the tissue sample used for the biopsy, the dermatologist couldn’t guarantee all of the cancer cells had been removed and recommended a more extensive surgery. In an effort to predict how the cancer would spread, the doctors injected a radioactive dye at the original site of the mole and tracked it to the lymph nodes.
“They ended up removing a chunk the size of a hockey puck from my back as well as six lymph nodes,” said Burwell. It turns out she was lucky, all of the lymph nodes came back clear and she was able to get back to the exciting things happening in her life.
Three years later, Burwell’s grandmother noticed a wound on the bottom of her foot. The red streaks emanating up Granny’s leg led the doctors to believe it might be a bacterial or fungal infection. Over the next few months, various efforts failed and Granny’s leg got worse. An eventual biopsy determined that she too had melanoma. Granny traveled to Duke for surgery and when that was determined to be unsuccessful, and with her health continuing to deteriorate, she was admitted to the hospital and scheduled for a PET scan. The news was not good. Her entire body had been affected including her bones, lungs and brain. Sadly, within two weeks, the cancer took Granny’s life.
Devastated at the loss, Burwell made it her mission to educate people about melanoma. “Melanoma is often downplayed in the media,” she said. “I was lucky that mine was caught early but I’ve also seen how serious it is when it advances.” According to the American Cancer Society, 76,250 new cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, will be diagnosed in 2012 and some 9,180 Americans will die of the disease this year.
“I don’t want anyone else to hear, ‘Your biopsy came back and you have melanoma.’ I never want another granddaughter to hear ‘There’s nothing we can do,’” said Burwell emotionally.
Inspired, she decided to not only put her money where her mouth is, but to pound the pavement – literally. This June, she was approached by Tom Patania whom she knew casually through a running group. Patania told her about a new training team he was leading.
“The American Cancer Society DetermiNation is a nation of athletes determined to end cancer,” said Patania, volunteer coach of the Charlotte area team. “This inspiring movement saves lives by enabling athletes to dedicate their training and participation in marathons, triathlons and other endurance events to fight cancer.”
Patania knows the devastating effects of cancer all too well. Last February, he lost his mother to lung cancer. Having participated as a DetermiNation athlete in last year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah Marathon, Patania jumped at the chance to serve as volunteer coach for the newly-formed Charlotte, N.C., area group.
“We all have a shared passion,” said Patania. “Everyone on the team has a story of a loved one who has had cancer, is still fighting cancer or was lost to cancer. This experience binds us, inspires us.”
As volunteer coach, Patania plans clinics helping the athletes learn more about training, nutrition, race day strategy, and more. “Some of the athletes have never done an endurance event,” he said. “This group helps them to prepare both physically and mentally. Together we are able to step out of our comfort zone. Some people want to do it, but they are scared. With this group, they can do it!”
Cayce Burwell will be stepping out of her comfort zone and “doing it” on November 3, when she runs the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Savannah, Ga., as part of DetermiNation. Fittingly, this date would have been her grandmother’s 82nd birthday. “She was my biggest cheerleader,” said Burwell. “I’ll be thinking of my Granny that day.” Burwell will also be honoring the loved ones of donors who have supported her efforts to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. She’ll be wearing the names of their loved ones and also dedicating each mile to an individual cancer survivor.
Developed in Chicago in the late 1990s, the American Cancer Society DetermiNation program is expanding nationwide and has recently come to the Charlotte area. Athletes of all levels (walkers and runners) are invited to join the training group which is preparing for the February, 2013, Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and half marathon in New Orleans. If you would like to get involved, please contact Kellyn Klug at the American Cancer Society at 704.552.6147 or email@example.com. Athletes commit to raising funds to support the American Cancer Society and are invited to participate in various training and informational sessions. Athletes not living in the Charlotte area can be virtual team members and receive access to online information and support.
About the American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society combines an unyielding passion with nearly a century of experience to save lives and end suffering from cancer. As a global grassroots force of more than three million volunteers, we fight for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. We save lives by helping people stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early; helping people get well by being there for them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures through investment in groundbreaking discovery; and by fighting back by rallying lawmakers to pass laws to defeat cancer and by rallying communities worldwide to join the fight. As the nation’s largest non-governmental investor in cancer research, contributing more than $3.5 billion, we turn what we know about cancer into what we do. As a result, more than 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year. To learn more about us or to get help, call us any time, day or night, at 1-800-227-2345 or visit cancer.org.