Taylor Burns is a baseball coach and strength & conditioning coach who has impacted the lives of countless athletes in Alberta. He is the owner and founder of Absolute Human Performance (AHP), a training facility in Edmonton. Taylor was kind enough to write this story about his mother, Lynne, for us to help us celebrate all the amazing moms out there on this Mother’s Day. We thank him for his contribution – both here and in the sporting world – and we offer a big thanks to all the mothers who give us so much, so often.
By TAYLOR BURNS
When I think of my mother and baseball, lots of memories come to mind, but for some reason one really stuck out to me when I sat down to write this.
I was 17 years old and playing for the Midget AAA Cardinals baseball team. I was a much better pitcher than a hitter, but I still played third base for our team. I had a poor game, during which I was hitless in four plate appearances, with a strikeout, a couple of ground outs and a fly out. I was in a lousy mood when I got home, but Mom was there to congratulate me on going three-for-four. She was being genuine, too. It was amazing to me that someone who had watched me play a thousand baseball games didn’t understand that putting the ball in play didn’t constitute a hit, but it was still nice to have someone who was always in your corner and was proud of how you played even when you didn’t perform particularly well.
I have a brother, Connor, who is nearly seven years younger than I am, and I coached him from Bantam AAA through the end of his high school playing days, both for the St. Albert Cardinals and Prospects Academy. Those St. Albert teams will always hold incredibly fond memories for me. That group of players and parents was very special and tight knit. We were runners up in the 2013 Provincial Championships, we won the 2013 Western Championships, we won the 2014 Provincial Championships, and we came just a single win away from claiming the 2014 National Championship, falling to Quebec in the final game.
I still am very close with a number of those players, and I am still in touch with some of the parents. I believe Mom was one of the reasons the parent group was so close. If you ask any of them, Mom always had a batch of her famous beer-garitas in the stands for anyone who wanted some. She was always the one who would host parent parties at our house – she was a social ringleader for sure.
She came to the 2013 Western Canadian tournament in Winnipeg to watch Connor play, and I remember her calling me to her hotel room. She had tears in her eyes and asked me to sit. She let me know that she had cancer, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It’s the words no one ever wants to hear, and at 23 years old, it was the first time I had to be the one to console one of my parents, and not the other way around. We were lucky though, as they had caught it early, and nine months later she was cancer free.
In 2016, I made what some considered a fairly crazy decision to return to the University of Central Missouri (UCM) to play my senior season and finish my degree. I had suffered a shoulder injury after my third year of college in 2011 and never recovered. While a number of people thought I was nuts to go back at 26 years of age, both my parents were incredibly supportive.
In early August of that year, just coming off the high of winning a Provincial Championship with the Edmonton Cardinals, I set out to make the long drive south, to Warrensburg, Missouri. As I said goodbye to my parents my Mom handed me a letter. In it there were many tenets of great advice, and it closed with, “We will always be in your corner.”
Fast forward to January of 2017. We were only a week away from our opening series, and I had just finished practice when my Mom called. She had terrible news. The cancer was back – and this time it was worse.
There were two types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma she was diagnosed with, including one that doesn’t have a known cure. This time around there would be a much more aggressive treatment plan: six rounds of chemotherapy. The goal was to eliminate the one type of cancer and keep the other one at bay, in its very early stages.
One reason not playing my senior year always really bothered me, was the fact I never had a Senior Day. In college baseball, it’s a tradition to honour each senior (ie, graduating player) with a ceremony where you walk on the field with your parents. Never getting that opportunity was a serious regret. Just over two years ago though, I finally got to do it, and Mom, who was in the midst of her treatment, was able to come down anyway. Getting to walk out on the field with both of them, as well as with a coach who is like a second father to me, is one of the greatest memories of my life.
The following summer was difficult, to put it mildly. Mom ended up with pneumonia and a lung infection as a result of her sacrificed immune system. It was hell for her, and having to watch helplessly as someone you love endures that kind of suffering is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. There was finally a silver lining though, as the treatment worked as best as they could have hoped. The one type of cancer was eliminated, and the other was kept at bay. She would just have to go for regular checkups to monitor it.
FEARING THE WORST
Last September I got another phone call from Mom. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know this was coming at some point. I just tried to push that thought out of my head, but it always lingered in a little part of the back of my brain. I left work and went to my parents’ house. The cancer was becoming aggressive. Mom would need to endure another aggressive bout of chemotherapy treatment in order to have a chance to be eligible to receive stem cell treatment. The amount, and frequency, of treatment she was about to endure made the previous summer look like a walk in the park. It was brutal to try to come to grips with a reality that if this chemo did not work, there was nothing else they could do.
All you could do was hope. I repeated this line from the movie Shawshank Redemption many times over the next couple months: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good ever dies.”
By this time, my brother was completing his senior season for Emporia State. It was late on Sunday night and I received a Snapchat from a teammate from UCM asking for my phone number. A friend of his who played with Connor wanted to get in touch with me. I sent it along, and about five minutes later I got a call.
Trey Taylor was organizing his teammates to fundraise money to get Connor a flight home ASAP. They found out what was going on with Mom, and realized he wasn’t going to be able to visit her until Christmas, so they wanted to do something. It was an incredible gesture and really a reflection on the special camaraderie and brotherhood you develop with your teammates. Connor flew home the next weekend and I know it was beyond special for both him and Mom. It meant a lot to me that they would rally like that for our family, and it was a lot harder to hate those rival Emporia State guys now (who had ended our season, as well as my career, by knocking us out of the conference tournament a year and a half earlier).
Mom got approved for the stem cell treatment at the end of November. Looking back, it was the worst month of my life watching Mom suffer and trying in vain to be there for her, but I knew it was my job to be in her corner now. It didn’t look like she was going to be able to come home for Christmas. Not only that, but it didn’t look like anyone was going to be able to visit her at the Cross Cancer Institute either because of her non-existent immune system.
The week before Christmas I went each morning to sit with her, and then I’d return late at night after I finished work. Visiting hours ended at 9 pm, but no one said anything about me coming after. There were multiple complications with the treatment. Her counts were refusing to go up at all, and they didn’t know why. All I could think about was that this had better be worth it. We knew going in that the cancer was never going away, so this was all to buy some more years. Honestly, I remember just hoping they would say she had five more years after this. But she started to slowly improve after it looked completely bleak and hopeless for weeks on end.
She was able to come home on Christmas Eve and we found out something a few weeks later that no one was ready for. The cancer was … gone. It was a miracle.
We found out also that her lead oncologist had to fight tooth and nail just to get her approved for the stem cell treatment because the chemotherapy leading up to it hadn’t done much. I’ve never met that man but I’m so incredibly grateful he believed. In a way though, I’m not that shocked. If you know me, you know how stubborn I am, and I got all that from her. Her resilience, grit, and toughness through that stem cell treatment were remarkable.
Just last week my father and I traveled to Emporia, Kansas, and walked onto the field with my brother for his Senior Day. It is now also one of my fondest memories. It was very sad Mom couldn’t be there, as she isn’t allowed to travel because her immune system still isn’t strong enough, but I know it’s a trade my brother and all of us are happy to accept.
While I’m overjoyed that my family was able to receive a miracle, I know so many others aren’t as lucky. I feel bad and selfish sometimes reveling in her triumph, because many others don’t get to.
If you’re reading this and someone you love is going through treatment I don’t have much advice to give you other than this: hope is powerful; all you can do is hope, pray, and be there. Be in their corner.
Mom is back to texting me if I want some food at work, or there for advice if I need it. It’s wonderful that life is returning to normal. She was never a baseball mom who you could talk to about the intricacies of the game, but growing up with someone who always gave unwavering support – which she continues to give Connor and I – truly laid the foundation for us to believe in ourselves and chase even the loftiest of goals.
I’m sure you’ll read this Mom. I love you. Thanks for always being in my corner. Happy Mother’s Day. And Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mom’s out there!