by Ryan Mink BaltimoreRavens.com Staff Writer
Ravens Director of Ticket Sales & Hospitality Mike Burke is active, competitive and hadn’t smoked a day in his life. Now Burke is battling Stage IV lung cancer, helping to inspire others battling the disease and raising awareness about its causes.
Mike Burke is that guy who plays slow-pitch, recreational softball like it’s the World Series.
He coaches four youth teams (soccer, indoor soccer and two basketball teams). He’s active, competitive, a father of four.
At 37 years old, he was healthy – or so he thought.
That is until one day when he felt a pain in his chest while reading his daughter a bedtime story.
In October of 2015, while at work at M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens’ director of ticket sales and hospitality, Burke found out he had Stage IV lung cancer.
“You kind of go numb,” Burke said. “The doctor is giving me information and it’s going in one ear and out the other once you hear the word, ‘cancer.’
“The competitive nature of me took over and I was like, ‘How can I fight this thing?’”
Burke has completely transformed his life. And when he has the energy, he tries to help others do the same.
Burke and Chris Draft, an NFL linebacker of 13 seasons, hosted six lung cancer survivors at Thursday night’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
It’s part of Draft’s Survivor at Every Stadium mission in which he is treating survivors who don’t normally have the opportunity to attend a game. November just happens to be Lung Cancer Awareness Month.
Draft lost his wife, Keasha (also a non-smoker), in 2011 to lung cancer. Since then, Draft has devoted much of his post-career time and energy into his foundation to raise awareness about the disease.
Kaesha and Burke are two perfect examples of how lung cancer can strike anyone, and why more research needs to be funded. Lung cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer with just a five-year survival rate of about 10 percent.
According to Burke, via his doctors, one in five people diagnosed with lung cancer has never smoked. Whenever Burke tells anyone he has lung cancer, he immediately tells them he’s one of those instances.
“I don’t wait for them to ask me if I smoked, because I know they’re already thinking it,” he said.
“Unfortunately, there’s a stigma attached to lung cancer. Most people picture a little old lady who smoked for 40 years. That’s not necessarily the case anymore. There are a lot of environmental factors.”
While it seems odd to hear, Burke says he’s lucky with his diagnosis. Because his cancer has a specific mutation, it has allowed him to avoid the traditional chemotherapy or radiation that would take a heavy toll on his body. He still works a full-time job, coaches his kids’ teams, is involved at their schools and more.
The mutation allowed him to take once-a-day targeted pills to prevent the cancer from spreading further. He’s had to switch from one pill to another because his body became resistant to the first.
Burke has attacked his cancer with a combination of treatments. He takes vitamin supplements and has gone to a total organic diet. He’s cut out as much sugar as he possibly can.
Outside of the medical treatments, Burke believes that by keeping a positive attitude, living one day at a time and appreciating the little things in life, his body will follow his mind. He is in his 17th season with the Ravens, and the organization has supported him at every turn with his battle.
But when asking his doctor about his long-term outlook, he’s still reminded that his cancer is terminal. He wants to be there for his wife, Michele, and children, Lily (7), Adam (11) and twins Brennan and Christian (13). He wants to see them through college at least.
“The way I look at it is, if it can’t hurt me, I’m going to try it,” Burke said. “But I’m basically waiting for the next drug that might be the long-term answer.”
“People should be aware that it can happen to anybody. I thought I was as healthy as anybody and athletic and doing a bunch of stuff. You have to change people’s perception before you can make a difference.”