Top News

Digby Relay for Life ambassador shares some thoughts as she prepares for June 15 event

Heather Burlingham, with her friend Felix Dugas, during the 2018 Digby Relay for Life.
Heather Burlingham, with her friend Felix Dugas, during the 2018 Digby Relay for Life. - Contributed

Heather Burlingham is a three-time cancer survivor who will serve as ambassador for this year’s Digby Relay for Life, which will take place June 15 at the Digby arena.

The role of ambassador includes giving a speech at a Relay for Life dinner. Burlingham will have words of hope and inspiration, but she likely won’t hold back when saying how she feels about cancer.

“What do you say?” Burlingham said. “You’re trying to relay a message to people and tell them ‘I know what you’re going through.’”

Burlingham had her first bout with cancer (breast cancer) in 1991. About a decade-and-a-half later, she had bladder cancer. Most recently, just last year, she had breast cancer again.

She credits mammograms with saving her life and she encourages women to have them done.

“In both cases of the breast cancer, it was detected by mammography,” she said. “Both times the tumour was near the chest wall and I never would have felt it until it was really large, so the mammogram, I feel, saved me both times.”

Getting back to the speech she will give at the Relay for Life, Burlingham said she had yet to put words on paper but was writing things in her mind.

“I’m going to try to give an encouraging speech, but I’m also going to call a spade a spade,” she said in a May 29 interview. “To me, cancer is a filthy disease. Really and truly, that’s what I think of (it). It invades so many lives.”

The Relay for Life is an annual fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society. The Relay for Life schedule for this year includes the Clare relay on June 8 in Meteghan River and the Yarmouth relay June 22.

“It seems to be a disease that’s everywhere,” said Burlingham, a Digby resident. “In our community up here, there’s a benefit coming up for a local business owner who has cancer and there was one a couple of weeks ago for somebody else.”

But it’s great to see that such events tend to be well supported, she said, an indication that people care.

“I know when you come to the smaller towns like Digby and somebody’s in need, the community pulls together,” she said, “so I’m expecting that there will be a lot of people that will come out to the gentleman’s benefit ... I think deep down everybody almost thinks ‘it could be me, so I have to help my neighbours.’”

Burlingham lost her mother and brother to cancer and she recalls the first time she had cancer herself. She remembers it being difficult for her son, who was a teenager at the time and who found it hard to talk to his mother or even look at her back then.

“We’ve talked about it, you know, years later,” Burlingham said, “(and) he said ‘Mom, I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to say.’”

This will be Burlingham’s third year attending the Relay for Life. She finds the luminary ceremony in particular can be moving.

As far as her own cancer story is concerned, Burlingham not only is grateful for the mammograms that she feels saved her life, but she also can view her situation with a sense of humour.

“The good thing about it – because there’s always some light in the tunnel – is I don’t have to ever wear a bra again.”

Recent Stories