May 2020 changed Erin Burke’s life forever. She was a 30-year-old woman in great health and eagerly awaiting the arrival of her first child in two short months. The news of her stage III, high-grade mucoepidermoid carcinoma (MEC), a rare salivary gland cancer, came as a shock.
“While I was certainly fearful for my own health, my biggest fear was the health and safety of my unborn child,” Erin says. She was comforted by the fact that Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s team at the Center for Salivary and Rare Head and Neck Cancers, led by Glenn Hanna, MD, quickly collaborated with her obstetrics and gynecology team to develop a plan to treat this aggressive cancer, while keeping her baby’s health a top priority.
Erin was admitted for a radical neck dissection just five days after her diagnosis, when Eleni Rettig, MD, removed a tumor the size of her fist, along with 30 lymph nodes and three strap muscles. Her care teams were constantly keeping an eye on the baby’s vital signs throughout the surgery to ensure no distress was caused.
As Erin recovered, her team was hard at work determining the next steps for her treatment plan. After consulting with her gynecologist, it was clear that they should schedule an induced labor and delivery, so the baby could be delivered safely, and Erin could begin chemotherapy and radiation treatment for her aggressive disease. After a five-day induced labor in July, Edward “Teddy” Burke was welcomed into the Burke family. Teddy remained in the NICU for just over a week while Erin recovered and prepped for her upcoming treatments. “During the first two months of my son’s life, I split my time between caring for him and undergoing treatment that, simply put, was mentally and physically exhausting,” she recalls.
Erin completed treatment in September 2020 and has since remained cancer free. Today, she is doing well and paying it forward as part of the 2022 Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge (DFMC) team, running her first Boston Marathon® this April and fundraising for the place that saved her life. She runs, she says, to make sure the next “Erin” can receive the same support and state-of-the-art treatment she received during her journey at Dana-Farber.
“I know for certain that I wouldn’t be here without the help of my amazing support system and incredible team at Dana-Farber,” she says. “I am honored to run for Dana-Farber to show my gratitude to Dr. Rettig, Dr. Hanna, and the entire team for saving my life and the life of my son.”
Support runners like Erin and make a donation to the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team today. Your donation will support The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign and how you can get involved at DefyCancer.org.