Tonight’s Relay for Life brings a personal perspective for Rita Burden, a woman who has battled deadly cancer three different times. As one who urges everyone to have regular medical checkups and encourages all women to have regular mammograms, Rita says, “I highly advise women if they suspect anything to not put it off. Please see a doctor.”
Her battle with cancer began in 1994 when she found an unusual patch of skin on her temple, just beside the right eye. After a suspicious biopsy, it was determined she had a skin cancer that needed to be removed. Too much sun growing up in West Texas was most likely the culprit.
Doctors were at first afraid the tumor might be wrapped around the nerves connected to her eye. Fortunately, they determined the tumor was close to the nerves, but did not touch them. The surgery was performed, tumor removed, and her sight was not affected. Rita did not have to take medicine after that.
In 2003, while living in Kentucky, Rita went for a routine mammogram. The radiologist found a very tiny, almost minute, lump in the breast. It turned out to be an extremely aggressive type of cancer. Thankfully, it was caught at the earliest stage possible as she had no idea anything was wrong with her body before the mammogram found the suspicious lump.
Rita underwent a lumpectomy in which the doctors thought they removed all of the cancer and she took radiation for a couple of months. Rita also took the drug tamoxifen for five years following her lumpectomy. Tamoxifen has been used for almost 10 years to reduce the risk of breast cancer in women who are at increased risk of developing breast cancer. According to medical statistics, a high percentage of all women who take tamoxifen will develop endometrial cancer.
Rita looked forward to the day when she would no longer have to take the medication she had swallowed every day since 2003. She had been cancer free for five years. Unfortunately, her elation at not having to take more medication only lasted a little while.
In 2009, she heard the diagnosis she had hoped never to know, that of endometrial cancer, which could progress to ovarian cancer. She underwent a radical hysterectomy.
Kevin Burden, Rita’s husband and the minister at Cornerstone Church, says, “You cry and get angry at the monster. It has tormented your spouse, your children and your finances. But you remember after all she’s endured, she’s still a truly remarkable person. There is surgery, hospital, doctors and recovery. Surely, this will bring an end to this journey.”
Rita has a history of cancer in her family. She has cousins who had cancer, believes her paternal grandmother had cancer, and her mother and father had cancer. When Rita moved to Tennessee, she found a new doctor who recommended BRCA gene mutation genetic testing because of the history of cancer in her family. This is a fairly new test developed within the last 10 years. Her test came back positive which meant her chances of cancer recurring due to the gene mutation were 70 percent. She decided to have a total, bi-lateral mastectomy on May 14. That surgery reduced her chances of having a recurring bout of cancer down to only one percent.
Rita said the surgery was “a wonderful, amazing surgery. I have taken no pain medicine. I have a wonderful church family praying for me and many friends praying for me. Praise the Lord for an amazing recovery.”
Rita was very active in Relay for Life in Greenville, Ky. She hopes to be able to participate in Warren County’s Relay activities tonight.
Rita’s husband says of his wife, “Though physically marred by an ugly and cruel monster, she is a pillar of strength, love and virtue. There have been doubts, tears and fears, but the Lord is her strength and I love her passionately. She’s so beautiful inside and out.”