TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS / Jack Burns perseveres despite cancer, achieves black belt

Jack Burns breaks into tears as his instructor, fifth degree black belt Mark Bergmooser of Bergmooser Tae Kwon Do, congratulates Burns on earning his black belt with a ceremonial handshake this past week at Monroe County Community College. Burns, MCCC's Director of Campus Planning and Facilities, has been battling stage four bladder cancer.

Jack Burns is a fighter.

Monroe County Community College's Director of Campus Planning and Facilities has a passion for the martial art tae kwon do. That passion hasn't diminished, despite Burns' ongoing battle with stage four bladder cancer.

After overcoming years of medical treatments, physical therapy and training, Burns reached a milestone in his tae kwon do training last week when he was presented with his black belt by instructor Mark Bergmooser of Bermooser Tae Kwon Do.

“I started, so I wanted to finish what I started,” Burns said. “I don’t like to leave things undone…I learned that from my mom and dad. To me it was unfinished business, so I had to finish it.”

Jack Burns goes through a series of forms during a recent tae kwon do class at Monroe County Community College.
Jack Burns and Olivia Latray work on self-defense techniques in the Bergmooser Tae Kwon Do class at Monroe County Community College. Both students earned their black belts this past week.

Burns was a year into his tae kwon do training when he received the devastating cancer diagnosis in November of 2016. He underwent extensive surgery to rebuild his bladder that forced him to take a six-month hiatus from his training. After a short return, the cancer had reached stage three and he had to take more time off to undergo chemotherapy.

At that time, doctors gave Burns a 15 percent chance of living.

"They said either the immunotherapy worked, or they would call in hospice," he said.

Thankfully, the immunotherapy worked. But it left Burns so weak he could hardly stand or walk.

"So I had to basically rebuild my strength and learn how to walk again and everything," Burns said. “My aerobic activity was going outside and walking around my driveway for a few laps and that's all I could do. It was like running a marathon for me.”

Despite the seemingly endless hurdles he had to overcome, Burns maintained a positive outlook. It's a quality that his instructor said he truly admires.

“He’s an inspiration, he really is,” Bergmooser said. “He has kept his faith, and as a Christian that’s empowering to see someone with that positive attitude like he has.”

Olivia Latray and Jack Burns are judged by third degree black belt Emerson Bergmooser, fourth degree black belt Frank Stasa, fifth degree black belt Mark Bergmooser, and third degree black belt Mark Gladieux during Latray and Burns' black belt test. Running the test (far left) is third degree black belt Presley Bergmooser.

Bergmooser, who has taught this class at the Monroe County Community College since 1998, said the philosophy of tae kwon do is to leave the class as a better person than you started as. He said he caters his teaching styles to the individual.

“Everybody I treat differently," he explained. "I have standards, but I’m going to teach to the individual and find your weak spot and challenge that and push that. Not in an effort to exploit it, but in an effort for you to overcome that."

Bergmooser said it was inspiring to see Burns return to his class every time in between surgeries or treatments.

“He was able to keep his positive outlook through it all,” Bergmooser said. “He never used cancer as an excuse. Honestly, I probably ended up bringing it up a little bit more than he did. Finally, I had to stop myself.”

Burns said practicing tae kwon do has helped him relieve stress and regain his strength. He described it as a good distraction and said his wife DeeAnn and their daughters Riley, Maysie and Kinsley have encouraged and supported him along the way, quizzing him on forms and combinations and watching him practice.

The whole Burns family was in attendance to watch him take his exam last week.

After performing numerous tae kwon do combinations and reciting form names and meanings, Burns was awarded the coveted black belt. As is customary in the practice, the belt first must be tied onto the instructor and then passed onto the student.

Burns began to tear up as Bergmooser tied the black belt around his waist, and his family and friends who came to watch lined up to congratulate him.

He plans to keep practicing the Korean martial art as long as he is able to do so, and hopes to use his story to inspire others who may be battling cancer or any of life’s hardships to stay hopeful and remain perseverant.

“Every morning I get up and I look at myself in the mirror and I say ‘I have another day, so here’s a chance for me to make a difference,'" Burns said. “Miracles still happen. Look what God did. He pulled me from my death bed and here I am.”

Jack Burns three years ago at a Relay for Life event. Burns weighed just 150 pounds at the time, due to his cancer going metastatic. His oldest daughter, Riley, pushed him in a wheelchair for the survivor lap that year. Courtesy photo

For more information regarding tae kwon do at Monroe County Community College, contact the Office of Lifelong Learning at 734-384-4127.

This article originally appeared on The Monroe News: Jack Burns perseveres despite cancer, achieves black belt