Before Kelowna resident Erin Burton was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, she was in the best shape of her life. She enjoyed hiking, walking and running regularly, and was the coach for the cross-country club at the school where she taught.
After finding a lump in her breast, Erin had four lymph nodes removed from her armpit, three of which had cancer cells. She received a diagnosis of Stage 2 breast cancer. Her treatment at BC Cancer – Kelowna began with surgery in June, followed by six rounds of chemotherapy from August to December.
Soon after she started chemo, she knew her hair would start to fall out. “My mom took me shopping for a wig. I didn’t want my children to be frightened of their mom not having hair, so I had them be part of the process! Me and my three kids were in our bathroom, and my eldest daughter put my hair in elastics and cut my hair! It was a family bonding time,” says Erin. “A few days later, my boyfriend at the time, Robert, who is now my husband, shaved the rest of my head — we were twins (he is bald!)”
Throughout all of this, Erin was still teaching. She didn’t want to take too much time off, so she took sick days when she needed to and worked as much as she could.
“I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me, so I didn’t tell everyone at school. I certainly didn’t want my students to know I had cancer and be worried or scared,” says Erin. “My close friends and family knew, and many people dropped off food and treats for the kids. I’m sure I would’ve had more support if I had been more open about my cancer diagnosis — but everyone has to do what works best for them. When I didn’t have any eyebrows or eyelashes, I’m sure people suspected.”
When Erin was first diagnosed, she had been dating Robert for just three weeks. “I told him ‘I know this isn’t what you signed up for, so I totally get it, and I’m giving you an out.’ He said ‘No, I’m here, and we’re doing this.’”
Although Robert wasn’t able to stay for each of her chemotherapy treatments, he did stop by at each one and brought her a dozen long-stemmed red roses. After her treatments ended, they went to Las Vegas for New Year’s and Robert proposed. They were married in July 2020.
Erin also wasn’t deterred from finishing her Master’s in Education, which she was close to finishing at diagnosis. She was able to apply for a medical extension and finished her capstone project. She continued taking her children to their activities and sat in ice rinks for her son’s hockey games and tournaments.
This year Erin decided to participate in BC Cancer Foundation’s Lose the Booze challenge. After cancer treatments took a toll on her body and mindset, it’s taken her time to get back to feeling more like herself.
She had never participated in Lose the Booze before and she decided to just go for it. “This time I decided I have nothing to lose! I didn’t really know what the response from my family and friends would be, so I initially set my goal at $200, but then ended up quickly changing it to $300,” she says.
When Erin thinks back over the last few years and reflects on her cancer treatment, she isn’t sure how she actually did it all. “I realize that it was mostly for my children, and to have life be as normal as possible. I thought that if I kept going they would know it would all be OK.”
“When there’s no choice, it’s amazing how strong a person can be.”
For more information about Lose the Booze visit losethebooze.ca