By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, DELANO, MN Not only do they both live in Winsted, work in the medical field, and help raise each other’s children, but sisters Amy Burau and Jessica Maas were both diagnosed with breast cancer within two weeks of each other.
It started one evening in October 2009, when Burau decided to do a self breast exam for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“I felt a small, pea-sized lump in my left breast,” Burau recalled.
When she went to the doctor, she was given an ultrasound, followed by a mammogram. Within days, she also had an MRI and a needle biopsy in three locations.
The results came back as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), and Burau remembers feeling overwhelmed with fear.
“Being 33 years old, a wife, and mother of three children, I thought I had a death sentence placed on my back,” she noted.
A double diagnosis
At that time, Maas’ biggest concern was for her sister’s well-being.
“I remember carpooling with Amy, trying to console her as she faced some really life-changing decisions,” Maas noted.
As Maas, then 35, began to share the news of her sister’s diagnosis, one coworker urged her to make an appointment for herself, just in case.
Maas listened, and during her exam, the doctor found an area of hardening above her right breast.
In light of Burau’s recent diagnosis, Maas was given a mammogram and an ultrasound. The area was then biopsied, but Maas wasn’t worried at that point.
“My thoughts were consumed with my sister and what she was facing,” Maas noted.
When she saw her pathology report, Maas was shocked to learn that she also had cancer.
By the end of October, both sisters had elected to undergo double breast mastectomies, sharing the same general surgeon, oncologist, and plastic surgeon.
Burau also underwent eight weeks of chemotherapy. Her husband, Mark, went along to every session, making it a “date day” with movies and food.
Since Maas’ cancer was non-invasive, she went on tamoxifen instead, a form of chemo taken over a five-year period.
A mutual mission
Today, the sisters have a shared goal to raise breast cancer awareness.
“This is our fourth year doing the Relay for Life,” Burau said. Their team, Sisters Against Breast Cancer (SABC) added “Kickers” to their name after the first year, since both women kicked cancer.
This year, Burau said the SABC Kickers are dedicating their walk to her 9-year-old nephew, Brady Graham, who lost his battle with Burkitts Leukemia in April; and to her grandfather, Fred “Bud” Gliem, who died of prostate cancer in June. The team is also recognizing a young girl named Josie Karels from Team Sparkle, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor this year.
Burau and Maas will share their story at Delano’s Relay for Life Friday, July 26 at 9:30 p.m., during the luminaria ceremony at Delano City Park.
The relay is open to the public, and families are encouraged to attend. To learn more, go to the Delano page of the Relay for Life website.