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Home Team Care: UVA Helps Neurologist, Royals Fan Defeat Cancer

Think about the support groups around you, the people you see and interact with most often. Your family and friends are the people you likely trust the most. But what about your coworkers? Would you trust them with your health? Ted M. Burns, MD, did, and he never once had a second thought about the care he would receive from his fellow coworkers at UVA.

Neurologist Ted Burns and his wife
Burns attributes part of his successful recovery to his family, including his wife and three kids.

Doctor and Patient Role Reversal 

A neurologist at the UVA Neurosciences Center, Burns is familiar with the ins and outs of hospital life and providing exceptional patient care. However, when he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in his left frontal sinus cavity, he wasn’t prepared to become the patient himself. “It was shocking,” says Burns, “but I knew the doctors’ reputations and felt really comfortable with everything they were doing with my diagnosis.”

A non-smoker in his 40s, Burns never expected to be diagnosed with cancer in the sinus above his eye. The news was hard on his wife and three young kids. Burns’ parents temporarily relocated from Kansas to Charlottesville to support him through the treatment process and help share the parenting responsibilities.

In Good Hands

Burns’ treatment began in March 2013 with daily doses of radiation for five weeks. He then received surgery on his head and sinuses, followed by five months of chemotherapy. His care team featured various physicians with whom he had previously shared patients: Paul Levine, Mark Shaffrey, David Drake, Paul Read, Leslie Blackhall, John MacKnight and Geoffrey Weiss. Being treated by doctors who Burns had seen in their professional element gave him a sense of security and ease about the process. “I didn’t worry about their competence or quality of care,” he says, “I knew they were the experts.”

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Skin Cancer
Support for Cancer Patients
Cancer Care at UVA

Throughout the process, Burns rarely asked questions. Instead, he put full trust and confidence in his doctors and focused on returning healthy to his family and his work. The treatment process was tough, leaving Burns with a lack of energy and limited mobility during the day. So, he took up a childhood pastime and followed his favorite baseball team throughout the 2013 season.

A native of Kansas City, Burns grew up a loyal Royals fan and a baseball enthusiast. Temporarily out of work, baseball was Burns’ escape. From spring training through a successful season, following the Royals provided him with source of entertainment to take his mind off his treatments. Almost a year later, Burns is gradually recovering and says that he feels better after every month.

Burns' children
Burns’ three children

The Royal Treatment

One part of the treatment process had a significant impact on Burns, one that is often overlooked – the kindness he received from everyone at the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center. From the registration desk and infusion center to every nurse and doctor, Burns felt he was treated kindly and compassionately during every visit. He recalls being greeted as Mr. Burns, not Dr. Burns, indicating that many staff members were unaware of his employment status at UVA. This enabled him to experience firsthand the kindness that patients receive on a daily basis at the Cancer Center.

Now back at work, Burns uses his experience to simulate the positive aspects of his treatment and apply that to his patients and other areas of the hospital. “There was an outpouring of kindness from that building,” says Burns. He believes the Cancer Center should be an example for all clinical departments in the hospital for genuine interaction with every patient.

Some say that Burns’ recovery has a lot to do with his dedication to the Royals, but Burns will tell you that it was due to exceptional care at UVA and devoted support systems both inside and out of the hospital. As the Royals battle the San Francisco Giants in the 2014 World Series, we hope their potential victories bring Burns and his family good memories and great health.

Tags: cancer

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