When nursing graduate of the class of 1988, Lesley Burns, was told that she had breast cancer in 2005, she was scared. Her mother was diagnosed with the disease in 1990 and died just six years later.
“She was the only one that I had that dealt with breast cancer, and so it really frightened me,” Burns said.
She and her husband, Jeff, are both graduates of the university and live and work in Temple, Texas. Their son, Nathan, was 3 years old when Burns was diagnosed.
“I have this really small child, and so I’m thinking, six years and I’m going to be gone,” she said.
Her mammogram caught the cancer while it was still in stage zero. She was only 40 years old. Doctors believed they could remove the cancer surgically and without any radiation treatments.
“When they went in to take it out, they didn’t get what they call clean margins,” Burns said. “They still saw a little bit of cancer where they had cut it out.”
Doctors asked her if she’d consider a mastectomy to remove the remaining cancer.
Burns would not have to undergo any chemotherapy if she agreed to the procedure. She made the tough decision to get a double mastectomy because of her family history. Her lymph nodes are checked yearly to ensure the cancer hasn’t returned.
“I am free,” Burns said. “Cancer free for almost four years – one more year, and I can give blood again.”
Friends from church provided comfort and offered prayers.
Rose Morales, a UMHB elementary education graduate of 2000, said, “Lesley depended on others by (accepting) their support … She is a very independent woman, but knows … she can’t do it alone.”
Enduring her cancer battle, she said she felt God telling her, “Lesley, I am here. I am the Master Gardener. There are times when I’m going to have to prune you, but the fruit that is going to explode from you is going to be an amazing thing.”
Burns grew up on a farm in the small town of Caldwell, Texas, only an hour away from the university where she received her nursing degree.
“I started talking about being a nurse when I was 7 years old,” Burns said. “And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
She carried the infamously heavy study load with a practical strategy.
“If I knew I was going to do something fun with my friends, and it took an hour, then I would know I would have to study for two hours … because there was so much reading,” she said. “I knew I had to take (that) time.”
After graduation, she became a nurse intern at Scott and White hospital in Temple, Texas.
“I joined that kind of float pool,” she said. “Thinking I would get pulled into the ER and be ready whenever a position (came) open, I’d be able to do it.”
But Burns remained in the position for more than a year.
“I even wondered if I’d missed my calling because I hated it so bad. So after I spent a year on the floor … I started looking for the emergency department to have openings.”
Burns has been in the ER for 20 years and moved into a nursing manager’s position two years ago. She is often a listening ear for the nurses who’ve had a tough day.
“I do more management of the nurses, doing schedules, helping with problems, working through processes and how to get things (like) better equipment for the nurses,” she said.
Burns attends Heights Baptist Church where her husband is the youth minister. She served as director of Vacation Bible School for six years and is currently the college students’ Sunday school teacher.
Junior, Dallas Flippin, is a student in Burns’ Sunday school class and has known her for two years.
“She’s encouraging by being open that Christians can have problems, and they can have tough times,” Flippin said. “It’s not like a fake Christian bubble.”
After losing her mother to breast cancer and fighting the disease herself, Burns recognizes the presence of God in her life.
“I cannot take my life and make it what I want it to be. Only through (God’s) glory, through (his) grace, can I be what I need to be,” she said. “And the fruit that’s going to come from that is only by the grace of God.”