Catching Up with Rhabdomyosarcoma Pediatric Cancer Survivor, Bree Burke

For about two weeks, Bree Burke had what looked like a stye or an eye infection. Her ophthalmologist suspected the condition was something more than an infection. In August of 2012, a CT scan revealed Bree didn’t have an eye infection,  rather a rhabdomysarcoma in her eye orbit.

Given Bree’s tumor location in her head, it was decided that proton therapy would be the best treatment option for her. Proton therapy would be able to precisely target the tumor while sparing surrounding healthy tissue.  This would also cause her fewer side effects than conventional radiation. Fortunately for Bree, our MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center wasn’t far from her home in Katy, Texas to travel to for treatment.

Beginning the journey to fight cancer

In the evenings, Bree and her sister, Blayne, would jump in the family car with snacks in-hand as their mom drove them to the Proton Center for treatment. “We were extremely fortunate to be so close to the very best medical care,” Bree’s mom said. “The girls and I would listen to Michael Buble’s Christmas CD on the way to the center and sing along to ‘Silent Night’ and ‘All I want for Christmas,” Bree’s mom recalls.

Bree Burke

Bree built a strong relationship with the staff at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center. The technicians worked with Bree before and during her treatments to make her feel comfortable, safe and secure. “The experience they have treating children with rare cancers is very important,” Bree’s mom said.

As a result, Bree didn’t require sedation before each treatment instead she chose to distract herself by watching her favorite Disney cartoon series. “A technician would hold an electronic tablet for me so I could watch shows like ‘Doc McStuffins’ while I received my treatment,” Bree said.

Although she was only five years old at the time of treatment, she remembers the preparation process prior to treatment such as the creation of her mask. “It felt like spaghetti laying on me,” Bree said. Rather than letting cancer bring her down, Bree chose to fight cancer with a positive attitude, which proved to make a big difference during her treatment.

Bree completed a total of 25 proton therapy treatments. To celebrate the end of treatment, Bree treated everyone in attendance with a pizza party and cookies.

The jovial 10-year-old Bree Burke will soon begin 5th grade and continue her dancing in ballet, jazz and tap. When she’s not dancing, she is busy in her craft room creating prayer boxes or drawings.