Fighting to keep a mother’s memory alive through cancer walk

A woman surrounded by nursing staff at the Georgia Cancer Center
Fay Burchfield is surrounded by members of the Georgia Cancer Center to celebrate ringing the bell at the end of chemotherapy treatments

When you lose a loved one, there are different ways to pay tribute to their memory. For Rita Garner, she’s celebrating the life of her mom by answering the Georgia Cancer Center’s call to raise money to develop new treatment options for patients while making sure their needs can be met throughout the treatment process.

“My mom was a patient of Dr. Bunja Rungruang for about three years,” Garner said. “While she did pass away in April this year, everyone took very good care of her. The entire staff are truly angels on earth for what they do.”

Garner wants to spread this message by registering for the Georgia Cancer Center’s 2019 Unite in the Fight Against Cancer walk. The fundraiser, which happens Saturday, Nov. 9, brings together survivors of all cancer types, as well as their families and friends. Garner’s team, “Fay’s Fighters,” is named for her mom, Fay Burchfield. Burchfield, who died in April 2019, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in January 2016.

“Creating the ‘Fay’s Fighters’ team is a way I can help others at the center who are going through what she did,” Garner said.

Sitting on the couch inside the Pat Sodomka Resource Library, Garner recalls the shock she and her mother experienced when the doctor shared the diagnosis. It came after Burchfield went to see her doctor to find out what was causing pain in her abdomen. She ended up with a CT scan that showed a “suspicious” mass. After getting blood drawn and tested, Burchfield was told her CA-125, which is a specific cancer antigen protein found in the blood that shows up when cancer is present, was off the chart.

“After getting the test results, we were referred to Dr. Rungruang,” Garner said. “She really has a knack for working with her patients. She’d tell us this is what we’re going to do. Then, she’d ask Mom if she was up for it. My mother and I truly appreciated her straightforward approach.”

Garner said she was surprised when Rungruang told her they could do surgery to remove the tumor. She said another doctor had not given her a lot of hope that surgery was a viable option. Once the surgery was over, it was time to start chemotherapy. Burchfield underwent the treatment once a week for about eight to nine months.

“She went through the entire process like a champ,” Garner said. “She amazed me with her strength.”

With surgery and chemo behind her, Burchfield showed no evidence of disease for about nine months. Garner said her mom was determined to stay active and live her life. So, they started a weekly ritual on Wednesdays. They’d go bowling, and then it was lunch with a group of ladies, with grocery shopping to wrap up the mother/daughter day. When the cancer did come back, Garner said her mother was determined to be cancer-free again.

“If she underwent a treatment that didn’t work, she’d ask Dr. Rungruang what the next option was,” Garner said. “She said if the doctor thinks it’s going to make me better, then I want to do it. She hung in through the good and the bad.”

While her mother may be gone, Garner said starting the Unite in the Fight Against Cancer team is a way she and her mom can give back to the place that gave them so much more time together. If you’d like to learn more about the Unite in the Fight Against Cancer walk, visit this link. You can create your own team, join an existing team or simply make a donation to help us reach our $100,000 goal.

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Chris Curry
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Chris Curry

Chris Curry is the Communications Coordinator for the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University. Contact him to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at 706-799-8841 or chrcurry@augusta.edu.

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Chris Curry Written by Chris Curry

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