Marysville News

#BLUE4BURKE

MHS student buoyed by campaign of support

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Students at Marysville High School donned as much blue as they could find on Tuesday, Dec. 17, in honor of a fellow student recently diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare bone cancer that usually affects children and adolescents.

But they weren't alone.

Thanks to social media, students at Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Bradley and Olentangy Orange high schools were also urged to join the #BLUE4BURKE event to support 15-year-old Devon Burke.

The idea started with Burke's best friend since seventh grade, Devon Stephen. She knew she wanted to start a hashtag trend for him and she knew his favorite color was blue. She connected with the leader of the student spirit section at MHS, who in turn started getting the word out.

The original tweet went out to Marysville students on Monday, Dec. 16, encouraging them to wear blue on Tuesday to show support for Burke and to give donations during English class.

It wasn't long before tweet after tweet rolled through social media. Then spirit sections at other central Ohio high schools were contacted and by Monday evening, were re-tweeting the request to wear blue for Burke on Tuesday.

"So many people saw it and it's amazing because they don't even know him," Stephen said through tears. "They don't know what an amazing person he is but they're still trying to help."

Watching Twitter "blow up" was surreal for Burke.

"I didn't know how to feel at first," he said. "But after a while, people kept on talking with me and it feels good to know I'm surrounded by those kind of people. I'm so happy about (the support of) all the other schools surrounding us."

Students from schools as far away as West Liberty and Loveland said they were on board. Hilliard Davidson and others collected donations for Burke as well.

"It's a lot of stress and pressure: walking around and seeing all this is for me," Burke said.

"I know he feels a bit guilty because not everyone gets the attention and he thinks some kids are worse off than him and deserve it more. But I think he deserves it just as much as anyone," Stephen said.

She said she understands some kids have been upset about Burke getting so much attention when other cancer patients might not, but she sees the event as not just about Burke.

"I do understand that to an extent, but it's not just about Devon," she said. "Obviously, blue is his favorite color. I wanted this to be specific to him, but it's just about cancer in general and just supporting someone going through a hard time because they need it."

According to the American Cancer Society, about 225 children and teens are diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in North America each year.

Union County Health Department epidemiologist Mary Salimbene said the Ohio cancer incidence surveillance system (OCISS) shows 53 cases of cancer in Union County children and adolescents age 19 and younger since 1996. Two cases of Ewing's sarcoma have been reported in Union County residents age 19 and younger since 2004.

Burke said he just wants to thank everyone who has participated.

He has one clear message to share: Don't ignore the signals your body sends you.

"You have to go see a doctor. Don't just tough it out because it really could be anything. Let the doctors know everything because doctors aren't always right and they need to know everything you feel," said Burke.

During football season, his diagnosis started with something almost every athlete has heard of -- shin splints.

"But I've had shin splints before and I knew there was something different about it," he said. "When we went to the hospital they saw X-rays from before and after and realized it was something much worse."

He is undergoing chemotherapy treatments but says he feels great at the moment.

His sense of humor remains intact as he talks about his football teammates shaving their heads for him.

"That was great. I got to shave a lot of it, too. We call ourselves the Bald Eagle Clan," he said, noting that sporting a bald head in this weather is a chilly experience.

"I can tell you the exact temperature when I walk outside," Burke said, laughing.

Stephen plans other fundraisers for Burke in the future but says the #BLUE4BURKE event was a learning experience about the power of social media.

"It's a little bit crazy and a little bit surprising -- but not too surprising. Who wouldn't want to help someone with cancer?" she asked.

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