Surviving and Thriving

by Feb 9, 2024Health, People, Southport Oak Island

Southport resident Amy Burns shares what life is like after breast cancer.

In 2019, at age 52, Amy Burns was in the prime of her life. She stayed active, worked out, practiced yoga and loved to windsurf. And then, one morning while taking a shower, her world changed.

“I soaped up, and my fingers went over a spot that I initially thought was a muscle knot. And then I said to myself, ‘Who are you kidding, that’s not a muscle knot,’” Burns says. “Call it woman’s intuition, I just knew it was cancer.”

Burns always did everything right. She was an athlete, never smoked, always made her yearly exams and had no family history of breast cancer. So, she immediately hoped for the best. She promptly made an appointment with her primary care provider, Dr. Alex Newsom, who scheduled a mammogram and then a biopsy, which came back positive for cancer.

Burns was diagnosed with IDC or Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, which could eventually spread through the lymph nodes or bloodstream to other areas of the body.

Amy Burns Breast Cancer Survivor

“Within a week, I had surgery to remove the lump and the lymph nodes closest to the tumor,” she says.

Initially, her doctors thought the cancer was not invasive and that radiation would be the only necessary course of action following surgery. However, a final pathology indicated cancer in four lymph nodes under the arm, which put her into stage three cancer.

“I didn’t cry much at all,” Burns says. “I just remember saying to my doctor, ‘OK, what do we do? Let’s get the ball rolling because this isn’t taking me out.’”

After 16 rounds of aggressive chemo and six weeks of daily radiation, Burns is cancer-free.

She credits her “Multiple D [for disciplinarian] team of doctors” for saving her life, including Dr. Newsom, her surgeon Dr. Elizabeth Weinberg, her oncologist, Dr. Lindsey Prochaska and the staff at the Zimmer Cancer Institute.

Amy Burns Survivor

In addition to her medical support team, Burns is thankful for her network of family and friends who helped her get through her treatment, and her personal trainer and life coach, Alex Gonzalez, who helped get her muscles and bones strong again, boost her morale and put her in a positive place. Most importantly, she credits her husband, Pat, for being her biggest cheerleader.

“He kissed my bald head every day and told me I was beautiful,” Burns says. “It’s tough losing your hair, but it’s even worse losing your eyelashes and eyebrows. He made me feel beautiful and loved.”

Four years into her remission, Burns reflects on her health journey and how it “changed life for the better.” Before her diagnosis, she was working full-time, all the time in a very stressful job. She and Pat moved to Southport in 2018 to be near the beach, yet she rarely went to the beach because of work.

“I think God smacked me with this to wake me up,” she says. “When you beat something like this, your perspective changes so much.”

After surviving breast cancer, Burns made some important changes to her life. She goes to the beach regularly. She moved from a stressful job to a job in retail and is loving working with people. “I will never go back to a desk job again,” she says.

Breast Cancer Survivor

She also has a newfound sense of passion and purpose for helping others survive breast cancer and bringing awareness to the disease. Burns recently participated in the Pledge the Pink event in Oak Island, which raises money for breast cancer support and research. It is a four-day event in which participants “walk, run, crawl or waddle 33.1 miles on three gorgeous courses.”

Burns also participates in the annual Run for the Ta Tas, a 5K and 1-mile race held in Wilmington that helps raise money for organizations that aid in the fight against breast cancer.

“Dr. Weinberg also participates, and the last time I ran it, as I approached the finish line, I could hear the times being called out, and as I came across the finish line I burst into tears,” Burns says. “I found Dr. Weinberg, and I hugged her and I thanked her for saving my life, and I said to her, ‘I just had my best time ever!’ It’s a big, wonderful experience, and who would have thought that so many amazing and positive things can come out of cancer.”

Photography by Brenda Torrey