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Targeting Cancer: Cancer experience guides career path for local patient

Katie Burke's experience battling cancer inspired her to pursue a career in it.

Each week, Katie Burke comes to work at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute. Once every six months, she checks in as a patient.

Her cancer journey began in 2009, at age 23, just three months after she and her husband, Cameron, were married. Katie was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and chose to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction.

A medical assistant at the time, Katie returned to college and became a patient navigator at WVCI. In her role, she helps patients navigate the cancer care system, connects them with resources and offers them a shoulder to lean on.

“Just being there to remind them that whatever feelings they might be experiencing are normal,” Katie says. “This might be the time for them to get involved with a support group. Some people benefit from support groups during treatment, but, often times, those groups are even more beneficial after treatment.”

Seven years ago, she started a support group for young women like herself going through cancer and that group is still going strong.

Cancer-free for eight years, Katie admits she still gets anxious about her own checkups with her medical oncologist—and that any slight illness can bring back thoughts of cancer.

“It can be something as small as a simple cold. But for a cancer survivor it’s not small, nothing is really that small, and it’s hard not to go to that place in your mind,” she says.

Katie shares her story to encourage more women to do regular breast self-exams and to be their own best advocate if they think something isn’t quite right with their health. Over the years, she’s become an inspiration to patients and a testament to never give up, even when life takes an unexpected turn.

Cancer treatment delayed Katie’s plans to become a mom, but six years after her diagnosis, she and Cameron welcomed to the world their daughter, Sutton, who recently turned 2. And now, they’re making plans for baby No. 2.

“Having a pregnancy after cancer isn’t easy,” Katie says. “The fears of having all those extra hormones in your body when your cancer fed off hormones can be worrisome. But having a family is a choice my husband and I made, and that’s what we wanted. We’ve chosen to make this cancer into something much better.”

Katie has learned that cancer brings with it a new normal. And what that new normal looks like is different for each patient.

“You will never be the same person before you were told you had cancer. You look at things differently. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just different.”

For Katie, cancer put life into perspective, reminding her that every day is a gift and another opportunity to be thankful and help others.

For a list of cancer support groups at WVCI and in the community, click here.

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