Right donor may save Burr’s life

by | Mar 15, 2012 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Drop the gloves. Shawn Burr is back for another round against cancer. This one, like most second rounds, may be tougher than the first, which he squashed in typical Shawn Burr fashion, claiming he was the only person in history to go through chemotherapy and gain weight.

Months passed. He was cancer-free, they said. He even posted a Facebook entry a few weeks back, the day the Red Wings were seeking the record for consecutive home victories. It read, “Life is good.”

A few days later, he had a blood test. The results were concerning. A biopsy was taken.

And “life is good” seemed like a memory.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Shawn Burr, 45, is just too damn optimistic, too upbeat, too selfless and too self-deprecating to lose to cancer.

He has the goods to beat it.

But he may need some equipment.

Which is where you come in – or, more exactly, your blood. Burr will need a bone marrow transplant to beat his opponent, acute myeloid leukemia. Saturday at 4 p.m., he already was scheduled to host a hockey classic at the Great Lakes Sports City Arena in Fraser, between the Red Wings alumni and Burr’s assembled All-Star team. Fans coming in can stop at booths and have their cheeks swabbed, then put themselves into the bone marrow donor registry.

It originally was intended to help others suffering from cancer.

Now it might save Burr’s life.

A chance to help others

Finding an exact bone marrow match is like finding a 7-foot goalie. There are millions of people registered internationally. Only seven right now, Burr said, are exact matches for him.

Just the same, donors can’t be found if donors don’t sign up. It doesn’t hurt, doesn’t commit you and by making the swab process part of the fun Saturday – ticket proceeds also go to fight the disease – Burr is advancing the battle, if not for him, then for someone else. Just think, if athletes held events like this all over the world, there would be that many more donors to pick from.

(By the way, if you were the perfect match, donating is not as onerous as once thought. Check it out at marrow.org.)

Meanwhile, as always, Burr tries to put a good face on his situation. Knowing calls are made to potential donors, he jokes, “Hopefully they got a Fuller Brush salesman working the phone.”

Knowing his sister, his kids and his wife, Amanda, are being sampled, he cracks, “That would be weird if my wife turned out to be the right match and I got her blood, wouldn’t it? I’d end up telling myself what to do all the time.”

More chemo on the horizon

Nobody deserves cancer. And those who know patients frequently say, “Why does this happen to such a great person?”

You could say that a hundred times about Burr, the stout, Huck Finn-like jokester who played forward for the Wings in the 1980s and ’90s. Cancer didn’t make him generous; he was always that way. Cancer didn’t make him kind, empathetic, a solid member of his community; he was always that way.

All cancer has done is nudge him back into the limelight in a fashion he could do without. The day after his hockey classic, he will return to the hospital, and the following day he will start a fresh round of chemotherapy to destroy the cancer cells (and so many healthy cells with it). He’ll endure the pain, nausea, hair loss. He’ll hope to reach a remission, at which point, if a donor can be found, there will be more chemo – to wipe out the existing bone marrow – and then the transplant process would begin.

It’s weeks of hell that no one should have to endure. But typical to Burr, he takes it as an assignment, the way he did when Jacques Demers told him to get in the crease and stick his big butt into somebody.

“I’m more than confident I can battle this thing and beat it,” Burr said. “I know it’s gonna be hard. I have too much time to think. And my brain’s not that big!”

If you can, get to the game in Fraser on Saturday (shawnburrfoundation.org for information, or just show up with $10 for ticket), give them a spit and get on the registry. Or marrow.com shows how to do it online. A simple swab might save a life. And can you imagine if you were the person to save a guy like Burr?

By the way, Saturday is also St. Patrick’s Day. Burr suggested: “Anyone who’s getting a swab might want to hold off on the green beer until after, OK?”

Drop the gloves.

My money’s still on the kid.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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