IN THE PEWS: A conversation with Suzy Burns

The Burnses and their extended family. “I know we would love to have all of our children closer to home, but we accept that each one of them is where they need to be, and so we adjust,” Suzy says.

Suzy Burns comes from a large family and raised her own family of four children, along with her husband, Nick. She knows how to care for others, and does so in a very compassionate way by guiding those who have cancer through tough times of their lives.

You’re a native of Utica, the youngest of seven children. What was it like growing up with all those older brothers and sisters?

Chaos … but it was great fun! We all had our assigned chores; we fought like so many siblings do but woe to those outside our family who dared to pick on any one of us. We had Sunday dinner together without fail and, most weeknights too. As the youngest I was treated well most of the time, but if there was any sense I was being spoiled, my brothers and sisters would quickly correct that. I had a blessed childhood and am still aware of that on a daily basis.

You have a pretty big family yourself, with two sons and twin daughters, ranging in age from 27 to 29. How was it in your household, basically raising four children who were close in age?

Coming from a big family helped because I didn’t know life any other way. When our children were little, having a structured routine was critical. When Tess and Kate were born, Jack was only 14 months and Nick was two and a half. It was a wild time for sure. Four kids in braces at the same time, three AYSO soccer games each Sunday, endless graduations, four kids in college … the list goes on. However, I can’t imagine life any other way and our children are still close to each other even though many miles separate them.

You enjoy doing laundry, hanging clothes on the line and ironing. OK, why?

I think it serves as a lovely reminder of the everyday things my mother did for our family. We did not have a lot of money, but we always had enough. My mother taking the time to hang the bedsheets on the line and iron our pillowcases was always special to me. It was if the smell of sunshine and warm breezes was how my mother packaged love for us. Being able to pass that simple gift on to my children makes me happy and connects me to my mother even though she has been gone for almost 20 years.

Your children now live out of town. How tough is it to be so far away?

Nick and I believe our job as parents is to raise decent people who will be good citizens of the world. All of our children lived abroad for a year as Rotary Exchange students so we became acclimated to long-distance relationships early on. If we had a choice, I know we would love to have all of our children closer to home, but we accept that each one of them is where they need to be and so we adjust. And, the internet has certainly helped to close the gap.

You wanted to be a nurse from an early age. What drew you to that profession?

My oldest brother, Jack, died from complications of juvenile diabetes when I was 7 years old. That loss at such a young age made we want to care for others during difficult times. The only other job I ever considered was being a firefighter but that was not an option for women at the time.

You are an oncology nurse navigator for Oneida Health Cancer Care. Please describe exactly what you do?

My role as a navigator is to serve as a single point of contact for my patients. Cancer care is complicated. Patients can have multiple providers from a surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologists and additional specialists based on their diagnosis and treatment. I help to coordinate care, educate patients and families, provide seamless communication between patients and their physicians and between physicians and most importantly, to be a patient advocate.

Is it difficult emotionally for you while you’re trying to help people during a difficult time of their lives?

Most days, I love what I do and consider this job one of great privilege. You are allowed to be a part of an individual’s life when they are often most vulnerable. I do not take that for granted. However, when building these relationships, you can form close bonds, and when a patient’s cancer no longer responds to treatment and death is inevitable, this makes a work day difficult to say the least.

How rewarding do you find your job?

Love, love, love my job and think how fortunate I am to do what I do! This work is truly life affirming.

You and Nick originally were longtime parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes and you came to Mount Carmel when Father Joe Salerno was pastor. What did you find here that became meaningful for you?

When Nick and I first began to attend Mount Carmel in 1995, we were struck by the beauty of the church but more importantly by the warmth and welcoming of the parish as a whole. It was obvious to us that liturgy was important here and music was an integral component of celebrating liturgy in a meaningful way. It was a perfect fit for us then and remains so today.

How has faith and our parish played a role in your life?

Faith guides me like the North Star. My extended family has had its share of challenges and heartache, but knowing that I am never alone, that God is ever present in my life, this truth provides me with grace to move forward. Weekly Mass gives me the opportunity to regroup and set my compass for the week ahead. Seeing my “church family” each Sunday grounds me and reminds me to see beyond my own needs, pray for others, forgive, and consciously work to be “the face of God” to those we see throughout the week. We are called to be “more,” and this parish reminds me of this and it humbles me.

Your family basically grew up in our parish. What advice can you give to young families today?

Actively participate in the Mass. Listen to the readings, sing whether you think you can or not, explain to your children the reason why weekly Mass is important to you and why you want to share that with them. Find a way to help the parish through a committee, serve as a Eucharistic minister or join the choir. Obligation is not enough to pass on the traditions of faith, it must be lived out in your daily life and fine-tuned with the help of the church. Your children are bright and can easily spot what is rooted in truth and what is a facade. Provide the foundations of faith, it will serve them well as they become adults. Even if they move away from the church as they grow older and question its tenets you will have given them the tools they need to find their way back.

SUZY BURNS

Age: 54.

Resides: Utica.

Education: Mohawk Valley Community College.

Occupation: Oncology nurse navigator for Oneida Health Cancer Care in affiliation with Roswell Park Comprehensive Care Center.

Family: Married to Nick 31 years; son Nick, 29, lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Amy; Jack, 28, lives in Vermont; Tess, 27, lives in Atlanta; Kate, 27, lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband, Ashton.

Things you like to do in your spare time: Cook, bake, read, teaching myself calligraphy, doing laundry, hanging clothes on the line and ironing.

Favorite book: “The Great Divorce” by C.S Lewis.

Favorite TV show: “Outlander.”

Favorite movie: “Amadeus.”

Favorite musical artist: Eva Cassidy.

Favorite quote: “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” — Willy Wonka