An IV in her arm and chemotherapy drugs dripping into her veins, Mary Ann Burke poured out her heart as she battled cancer for the second time.
“I have no choice. I have to do what I have to do to survive. I’ve got to go for chemo,” Burke said. In the background, a heart monitor beeped in rhythm with her.
Burke shared her painful and valiant battle with cancer with the public, allowing The Enterprise’s sister paper, The Patriot Ledger, to chronicle her treatment. She fought breast cancer twice, succumbing Tuesday at age 54 after it returned in 2010.
Burke allowed her battle to be documented in stories, photographs and video for the newspapers’ “Pink” editions last October, which aimed to increase knowledge and awareness of breast cancer in Massachusetts during that month.
“Mary Ann was truly an inspiration to all who knew her, walked with her and supported her efforts to end breast cancer,” said Karen Rouse, senior vice president for communications and marketing for the American Cancer Society’s New England division.
“We mourn her loss but salute her courage and we pledge to carry on her mission,” Rouse said. “Someone who has a heart as big as she does, and the kind of courage that she had working this hard to make sure that another woman doesn’t have to go through this type of harrowing treatment – that’s the courage that we salute.”
A married mother of one, Burke was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and battled the disease a second time when it returned in 2010.
Because of her bravery, her struggle and words live on to inspire many other women who are battling the disease.
“I can’t let this take over me,” Burke said last fall. “I’m determined. I’m a fighter.”
Her husband, Myles Burke, said Mary Ann “loved” being in the newspaper to raise awareness of women battling the disease.
“She’d say, ‘I’m in the newspaper.’ She was getting her voice across, you know. It made people aware,” Myles Burke, 57, said Thursday while fighting back tears.
After her diagnosis in 2008, Burke endured nine months of chemotherapy, and was declared cancer-free. But Burke had a cough that wouldn’t quit. She went to her doctor for tests.
Chest X-rays showed worrisome spots on Burke’s lungs. Doctors made image scans of her body and brain, then performed a lung biopsy. Soon she received the dreaded news: Her cancer had come back, this time in her lungs, bones and brain.
Burke traveled to the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center at Faulkner Hos pital in Boston every three weeks to be tested and receive chemotherapy. Doctors enrolled her in a clinical trial of drugs, including carboplatin, to target the cancer in her brain.
With treatment, the lesions in Burke’s brain decreased 26 percent. The cancer in her lungs had shrunk 48 percent.
In May, Burke spoke with The Enterprise about raising funds for breast cancer research. She organized a fundraiser in Holbrook on May 19, and planned to participate – for the fifth time – in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk this October.
Last year, her team of more than 45, dubbed “Mary Ann’s Breast Friends,” was able to raise more than $7,000 for cancer research. An entire wall at Burke’s home is dedicated to her fundraising efforts, including ribbons, newspaper clippings, and trophies.
“That was her goal in life, to find a cure,” her husband said.
Burke worked as a receptionist at ATG Rehab in Taunton, and retired in March, said her close friend and co-worker, Trisha Burns of New Bedford.
Burns said Burke wanted to make sure people were aware of breast cancer.
“You can’t put it on a back burner,” said Burns, 39. “She showed that it exists and it touches people’s lives every day and she thought people needed to be aware of it.”
Last month, while attending the Aerosmith concert in Boston with her husband, Burke felt weaker. But, he said, she didn’t show it.
“She was in great spirits until the very end,” he said. “It was unbelievable.”
Maria Papadopoulos may be reached at email@example.com.
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