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July 27. 2013 3:18PM

Jimmy Fund Walk Hero

Brain tumor hasn't sapped Salem mother's passions


Allison Burke, 33, of Salem was recently named an official Walk Hero for the 25th anniversary Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk. Burke, pictured here during a Jimmy Fund event at Fenway Park on July 22, was diagnosed with brain cancer in September 2012. She said she feels fortunate to be looking and feeling healthy despite her ongoing cancer treatments and hopes to serve as an inspiration to others fighting similar battles. The walk will take place in Boston in early September, and Burke said she's looking forward to crossing the finish line while pushing her 14-month-old daughter in a stroller. (COURTESY)

SALEM -- As the mother of a 14-month-old daughter, Allison Burke relishes the promise of each new day - of first words, first steps, first peals of laughter.

Under the surface, however, the 33-year-old Salem mother is fighting - to shrink the tumor inside her brain.

Two years in, it's a battle Burke appears to be winning. A recent checkup at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston revealed her tumor is shrinking.

But she knows others aren't so fortunate.

"This diagnosis could have halted everything," she said, "though I've made the decision not to let this hold me back."

Since being diagnosed with neoplastic astrocytoma/oligodendroglioma, a type of brain cancer, Burke, a former exercise physiologist and dance instructor, has made it her mission to lend moral support to others engaged in similar fights.

"I'm feeling pretty great most of the time, but not everyone is so lucky," she said. "I have a voice, and I can lend that voice to those unable to share their own."

Recently named an official Walk Hero for the 25th anniversary Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk, Burke will be on site to inspire the anticipated 8,500 or so participants expected to walk along the Boston Marathon route on Sept. 8 to raise funds for Dana-Farber.

The Walk Hero program matches Dana-Farber patients with walk teams, providing the walkers with added inspiration and motivation.

In August 2012, Burke and her husband, Raymond, had been married for two years. Her daughter, Kenna, was 4 months old.

That's when Allison began having excruciating headaches.

At first, she thought she was simply tired and deprived of sleep - not unexpected as the mother of an infant - but the headaches persisted. Then, one night in September, Burke's headache woke her from a sound sleep. Getting up to get a glass of water, she immediately collapsed and suffered a seizure.

A biopsy conducted at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston revealed brain cancer, and Burke immediately began oral chemotherapy treatments at Dana-Farber.

To date, she's completed nine rounds of chemotherapy, and doctors have been amazed at her progress.

Though she does experience some mild symptoms on the days she's taking her medication, Burke said, for the most part she feels "pretty great, actually."

"I'm still doing my daily tasks, still going for runs," she said. "After meeting other people in the cancer community, I realized not everyone has had an experience like mine."

As a Walk Hero, Burke joins dozens of other Dana-Farber patients, ranging in age from 1 to 90 and "every age in between."

Her main function is to share her story with others while walking alongside her team, Team TJX, which is composed of employees of the TJX Corporation. She'll also serve as a mentor to other cancer patients, particularly those in their 20s and 30s.

During the September walk, on which she'll be joined by her family, Burke plans to do the final 3-mile stretch of the marathon route. She's particularly looking forward to walking underneath the glass bridge connecting Dana-Farber's Boston facilities, where dozens of young cancer patients will gather to wave at the walkers below.

"For me, that will be an especially touching moment," Burke said.

On July 22, Burke and her family met up with this year's Jimmy Fund Walk teams during a rally at Fenway Park.

"Most people would think a gathering for a bunch of cancer patients would be pretty depressing, but it was just the opposite," she said. "We hugged, we shared our stories - it was very inspiring."

Reading a recent article in Time magazine about the latest updates in cancer therapies, one particular line touched her heart: "It will not take one hero, but many."

"That was kind of my 'a-ha' moment," she said with a grin. "The Jimmy Fund is calling me a hero, but I call my family heroes, along with my doctors and nurses, all the researchers and all the people who donate funds and participate in this walk. They all give us hope, which is priceless."

For more information or to sponsor a walker, go to www.JimmyFundWalk.org.

AGuilmet@newstote.com.


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