And once her treatments and surgeries were over, Burk took on a new challenge: do something fun for herself. She became a LuLaRoe fashion consultant, not only selling the comfortable and stylish women’s clothing she loved to wear, but also designing style shows for community events such as the Louisville Constitution Festival.
“I just go, go, go until I can’t go anymore,” she says with an infectious energy.
Burk, a 1982 Louisville High School graduate, lives in Louisville with her husband, Michael, whom she first began dating when they were juniors in high school. They are the parents of sons, Tyler, 25, and Trevor, 19, and their lemon drop beagle, Max.
Burk has spent her career in the dental field. She now works as the front desk receptionist at Dr. Richard Huetter’s dental office in North Canton.
Burk’s first cancer scare came in 2004 when a mammogram showed potentially abnormal tissue in her right breast. She had the suspicious lump removed and underwent six weeks of radiation, but tests detected new abnormalities in 2015. Once again, Burk had the suspicious lump removed, and once again in October 2015, her mammogram results for her right breast came back abnormal.
“We’re running out of chances here,” she recalls telling her husband. “I just felt down deep that at some point, it’s going to be cancer.”
She was right. Doctors found the cancer—stage 2—in the tissue they removed during the mastectomy in December 2015. The cancer had been concealed by scar tissue.
Burk started chemotherapy on February 5, 2016.
She believes continuing to work helped keep her mind off the war that the chemo was waging inside her body. Her co-workers also helped keep her curious craving for unsweetened iced tea from Chili’s Grill & Bar satisfied.
“I had no taste buds, but that was just something I could really taste and enjoyed it so much,” she said with a laugh.
Burk was only about halfway through her three-month chemotherapy treatment when a mammogram detected something suspicious on her left breast. Doctors determined the abnormalities were fragments of cancer that had been dislodged from the chemotherapy, but Burk didn’t want to take the chance. Three months after finishing her treatments, Burk underwent her second mastectomy, in August 2016.
“I didn’t want to be scared, and I didn’t want to go through chemotherapy again,” she said.
After consulting with two other plastic surgeons, Burk said she chose Dr. Michael McCormack as the surgeon for her breast reconstruction because he never rushed through her appointment to get to his next patient.
“When he sat down with me, it was like there was no time for anybody else. It was Val’s time,” she said. “He’s been like that every appointment. You go in there and it’s your time and I’m here to talk with you.”
Burk’s advice to anyone recently diagnosed with breast cancer is for them to find their “rock,” their support system. She found hers in her husband of 27 years and her sister, Pam Dougherty.
“They saw me at my worst. They saw me at my best. They were there through the tubes and the surgeries,” she said. “You just have to have that person there who is going to be your rock and, for me, that was them.”