Devon Burke has battled cancer twice. Now he’s taking on college.
It’s a big step for a young man who first was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma as a sophomore at Marysville High School in 2013. That is when the #Blue4Burke social-media campaign brought attention to his battle.
Ewing sarcoma is a very rare type of cancerous tumor that grows in bones or the soft tissue around bones, such as cartilage or the nerves, according to WebMD.com. It usually affects people between the ages of 10 and 20 and has a high rate of being cured.
Ewing sarcoma affects about 200 children and young adults every year in the United States and shows up slightly more often in males, according to WebMD.com. Although adults can get Ewing sarcoma, it is uncommon.
In September 2014, Burke was considered cancer-free, but it returned during his senior year in high school. He graduated in 2016, but his fight against cancer continued.
“The last round of chemo was somewhere the middle of December,” Burke said. “The last scan I had was clear.”
He has more scans scheduled in October, he said. For now, he is among the freshman class at Ohio University.
“This is going to be my first year,” he said. “I'm feeling pretty good.”
He once thought he would pursue nursing but is now considering a major in wildlife conservation biology.
The hills of OU’s Athens campus could pose a physical challenge for Burke, but he seems ready for the challenge.
“Radiation kind of screwed up my right hip and my left shoulder, so I'm still trying to work through some of the later side effects of radiation,” he said. “Like my muscles have kind of deteriorated and scarred up, so I'm not very flexible.
“Sometimes I feel really sore, but for the most part, that's all I really deal with nowadays.”
Muscle deterioration and lack of energy are his obstacle now, he said.
“I'm getting more energy for sure, but for the most part, I pretty much have a relatively low energy level compared to most kids,” he said. “Which is still much better than it was when I was doing chemo. But it's still relatively low.”
Burke moved in for his freshman year Aug. 25, and his mother, Anna Johnson, has felt the same emotions many other mothers would feel.
“I am doing OK,” Johnson said. “(But) we miss him.”
Burke said he plans to get a bicycle to help him get around campus on low-energy days. And he has something else to energize him.
“They are allowing me to bring my dog with me,” Burke said. Zander, his pit-bull, mastiff and Doberman mix, is an emotional-support dog.
According to OU, assistance animals are approved when it has verified that a student has a disability and that the animal is required to facilitate the student’s ability to enjoy all the rights and benefits of housing. Once those criteria are established, the animal also needs to be verified to be in good health and not provide a significant health or safety threat to the community, according to Carey Busch, assistant dean for student accessibility.
Zander could help Burke make the same adjustments many other college freshman are making this fall – life on his own, juggling classes and schoolwork and saying goodbye to family.
“I am very proud of him and happy he is finally able to move forward,” Johnson said of her son. “Of course, I still worry about him very much.”
Burke said his mother seems OK with his new adventure.
“She's not like super sad or anything – at least not yet. But we'll see,” he said. “I feel like everyone's more upset about my dog coming with me. They all love my dog.”