When Liz Burchett discovered she had a brain tumor, she determined to fight it.
“It became my personal fight, I didn’t want cancer to define me,” she said.
The baseball-sized tumor was discovered in 2010. Burchett had been experiencing severe headaches and seizures. After several tests, doctors had her come in for an MRI and that’s when they located the tumor.
“Within 30 minutes, (my doctor) had already scheduled the doctor’s appointment and surgeon,” she said.
When the tumor was first discovered, she had just graduated from college and was expected to begin student teaching the next day, so she was without insurance and worried about how to pay for what was going to be an expensive round of tests and surgeries.
“The nurse told me, ‘just step back and see what God can do,’ and within two days, people had donated enough money to pay for my surgery,” Burchett said.
Ultimately, doctors were able to remove only 80 percent of the tumor, because the remaining 3.5 centimeter mass was too deeply embedded in the area of her brain that controls language and speech. The tumor began growing again following the surgery, but with the aid of chemotherapy medicine, that was stopped.
“The doctor told me, ‘there’s no remission with brain tumors,’” she said, explaining they can be complex.
None of this has stopped Burchett, it simply has motivated her to do more as a means to encourage others. She immediately decided to become involved in Relay for Life, a yearly event in which teams come together to raise money for the American Cancer Society and cancer-fighting research.
“I knew I wanted to do something because I felt so blessed. I wanted to do something for everyone else,” she said, adding many others were not as fortunate as she was. Burchett cites her favorite quote, by W.T. Purkiser, which says, “God, it has been said, does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters ...”
Relay brings people together, she says, and that is her favorite aspect of the event. Her team consists of people she went to high school with, friends from church, and family members; it spans across all areas of her life. It becomes more like a large family, a network of survivors and others affected by the disease. It also has enabled Burchett to forge relationships with members of other teams who are survivors, their families, and family members of those who lost their battles.
“I love that about Relay,” she said.
Due to her work with Relay for Life, Burchett was nominated to become a Hero of Hope. The program is meant to honor cancer survivors and caregivers who are doing work which “exemplifies the mission of the American Cancer Society” by enabling them to travel around their state or region and share their story.
She was one of 20 individuals selected from the Mid-South Division, which covers Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee.
Burchett says she “was humbled and excited” to be nominated. “God had a reason for this happening; so I could share my testimony with other people,” she said.
The process will begin quickly, taking her to Birmingham, Ala., to undergo training before the end of October. After that, she will begin the next part of her journey, which will take her around the state and allow her to talk to other survivors, their families, and the families of those who lost the fight.
“I expect to be further humbled,” Burchett said.