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Hope floats: Woodbury native, stepfather tackle cancer together

Woodbury resident Steve Brennan and Woodbury High School graduate Jenny Burow were both diagnosed with cancer in June 2012. A benefit for Burow is scheduled for May 4 in White Bear Lake, where she now lives.

When a Woodbury man was diagnosed with lung cancer last June, his stepdaughter, Jenny Burow, made preparations to help him through the experience.

What Burow didn't see coming, however, was that she'd soon be joining her stepfather, Steve Brennan, on a parallel journey.

Burow, a Woodbury native, knew she'd be helping Brennan to and from appointments. But before she could, she needed to see the doctor to have a pain in her leg checked out.

The pain would come and go, but when it arrived, it was excruciating, Burow said.

An MRI test revealed a tumor in her leg.

"I knew there was something wrong, but I never knew it would be cancer," Burow said.

It was.

She was diagnosed with Ewings sarcoma, a rare bone cancer that generally strikes children.

The discovery - reached about a week after Brennan was diagnosed - kicked off a dual journey the stepfather and stepdaughter have been on ever since.

"At least we got it at the same time, so we can keep each other company," Brennan joked.

Burow, whose face became familiar to many in Woodbury while working for several years at Bielenberg Sports Center's ice arena, now has a metal rod in her leg to replace the 10- or-so inches of bone removed as part of her treatment. The 2003 Woodbury High School graduate is bearing down for her final round of chemotherapy next week - the culmination of about seven months of the arduous treatment.

The past 10 months have been difficult for Burow, Brennan and their family. Burow's grandmother was also diagnosed last year with cancer and succumbed to the battle in December 2012.

Yet all the while, Burow carried a vibrancy that Brennan said has helped buoy him in his journey with cancer.

"She's had such a positive attitude through this whole ordeal that it's inspired me," he said.

And he needs it.

Brennan said that while Burow's prognosis is very optimistic, he admitted that his is not.

"It's not good news for me," Brennan said.

He had most of his left lung removed and received chemo treatment through November 2012 - the results from which have left him with numbness running from his lower legs to his feet.

His doctors say he's presently cancer free, but there's a caveat. Brennan said for him, it's not a matter of if the cancer returns, but when. In the meantime, he's trying to build up his strength for the next eventual round of treatment.

"It's an extremely hard journey," Brennan said.

That's why he feels so blessed to have Burow by his side. She's able to provide perspective - remind him of things like, "at least I'm not a 4-year-old kid going through this."

Good reminders, Brennan said.

Burow's mother, Barb Miller, said that after getting over the initial shock of the diagnosis - "beyond devastation," she called it - she's become proud of her daughter's approach to the situation.

"I've learned a lot from her," Miller said.

One person's memory Burow said she has turned to is the late Ann Haering. The East Ridge High School student died in 2011 after a long battle with cancer. Burow knew Haering, who was close friends with her sister.

"I've thought about her so much in this journey," Burow said.

For all the things cancer takes away, Burow said the disease has given her things as well. Like a new perspective on life.

She now concentrates on seizing life by making plans to travel and focusing on health.

Also, she's giving serious thought about whether she wants a family. She said the concept wasn't something she had much considered in the past. But since chemo can affect fertility, "it's kind of been on my mind a lot" lately, Burow said.

Other things, like time spent with family, are appreciated more than ever.

It's a sentiment Brennan shares with her.

"The things I took for granted a year ago, I don't take for granted anymore," he said, likening the situation to "The Wizard of Oz," a film in which the main character is taken through a tumultuous dream, only to awaken and discover everything she ever wanted was surrounding her. "I've been looking for this happiness in my life and it's been here the whole time - it's my family and friends."

As things continue to improve for Burow, she keeps her eye on the horizon.

That includes the possibility of being a resource for others in her predicament. She's been grateful for all the health professionals and fellow patients who have helped her, but she said it would have been comforting to have someone in her peer group with whom to share her experiences.

"I think there's a real need for that resource," Miller said.

Meanwhile, Burow's chief goal is a return to work at US Bank, where she works in human resources.

"And I think I'm going to get there," she said.

Burow benefit set for May 4

A benefit event for Woodbury native Jenny Burow will be held May 4 at Village Inn and Stadium in White Bear Lake.

The event, which runs from 4-9 p.m., includes live music, a beer bust, raffle tickets and door prizes. All proceeds go to benefit Burow's recovery effort.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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