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Carol Burns: The Power of Unconditional Love

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Carol Burns doesn’t like the term Army brat, yet she realizes that the constant moving, meeting new people and essentially starting over every three years as a child helped create her being and personality. It also instilled in her a strength that has helped her overcome breast cancer, become an entrepreneur, raise children and fall in love for life and with life.

“The daughter of a career Army father, I hated every move, having to make new friends, adjusting to new schools and communities, but now as an adult, I know these were really opportunities I didn’t see at the time,” she commented. “They stretched me to adapt and become less of an introvert and appreciate the friendships I formed, but you can’t tell a young person that!”

Early Influence
Carol was born in Boston, Massachusetts; her father, Tom Bivins, was transferred frequently. While he was stationed abroad during the Korean war, her mother, Anneliesa, who had left her family in Germany at 19, raised Carol and her older brother, Rick, alone for 18 months in the valley by Carmel. “I remember kindergarten in Japan where the Japanese would boldly touch my blonde hair. I acquired a southern accent in Tennessee grade schools and spent days riding bikes and playing outside all day, where parents didn’t worry about us unless we didn’t show up for dinner. I experienced grade school in beautiful Germany, junior high in Monterey, and high school in the hot valley of Dinuba, California,” she reminisced. “Since we moved so much, our holidays were spent with just each other, my dad, mom, older brother, Rick, and me, but Dad always tried to plan our vacations traveling in other countries, such as summers in Italy and winters in Switzerland.”

In 1968, her senior year, she and her girlfriends decided to run for Raisin Queen, a popular pageant in Fresno and Tulare County. For her talent portion, she wrote a speech titled “Facing Reality.” The topic and inspiration came from letters she wrote to and received from young frightened soldiers, some who never came home, stationed in Guam during the Vietnam conflict. She won; the year following was so busy, going to school and working, that she lost her job as a veterinary assistant after missing so many days fulfilling her responsibilities as Queen.

She graduated from Reedley Junior College and worked as a legal secretary and PG&E employee, then moved to Lodi to live with her parents and was hired at Holz Rubber Company, where she met her husband, Dennis. The two married less than a year later and have been married 47 years. They have two wonderful children, Lindsay Graham and Joel Burns.  

“We adore their spouses, Chris and Shasta, and our five grandchildren, ages two to nine. I could talk forever about my family as my heart is so wrapped up into them. I feel incredibly grateful for each unique person, am so blessed by them and learn from them all the time. Lindsay, a Sacramento State graduate, is so creative, determined and organized. In addition to working as a speech language pathologist assistant and raising three children, she recently started her own small business, LoCaliDigitalMarketing. It’s so much fun sharing entrepreneurial insights with each other!” she continued. “Joel, a Cal-Poly graduate and currently first vice-president at F&M Bank, should finish his master’s degree next June. He and Shasta started a business, Chick-Chick Farms.”

A Retirement Plan
She and Dennis believe in hard work and taking responsibility; they instilled these qualities in their children. Carol had a daycare in their home for three years and worked as a legal secretary in Lodi before working 34 years as office administrator for WMB Architects. She retired April 1, 2018, and now owns Anneliesa’s Table, named after her mother. Anneliesa’s Table rents crystal, silverware, fine china, teacups, candlesticks, silver platters and accessories to set a beautiful table for an event. The seed of this idea came from her husband’s hobby of collecting crystal glasses.

When a client asked if she could do flowers for her tables as well, she said yes, and now she’s a passionate floral designer! She began with online courses with Kelly Perry of Team Flower and Sue McCleary of Passion Flower Sue. These two women are great inspirations to her. “Both are florists whose passions have led them to share their knowledge, try new techniques and ideas and bring other florists together in a community of support and sharing. I’ve also participated in a workshop in Santa Barbara hosted by Mayesh Wholesale Florist, and I listen to podcasts, flower focused and otherwise, as often as I can,” she noted. “There are so many wonderful workshops and classes out there today and I encourage new florists to invest in this part of their education.” 

Stepping out of her comfort zone has landed Carol in many wonderful situations and helped her meet true friends. After tentatively joining a local Bible study she became fast friends with Jan Watts, who was a member of Hospice of San Joaquin Auxiliary. Carol attended a meeting, and when another member, Linda Dillon, warmly welcomed her into the group, she joined and eventually served as financial secretary, participating in their many events and forming lasting friendships. “My one decision to take a chance and someone’s kindness just when I needed it has enriched my life more than I ever dreamed. I truly believe everyone has something to offer, and the world needs exactly what you have. I want to encourage everyone to take a chance to try something new, offer your services and don’t forget to be the one who reaches out with kindness. It changed my life; it will change yours and others along the way,” she smiled. “Amazing things wait for you, so launch out, girls!”

Giving Back
Thirty years ago, she was one of four who formed Fellowship in Action, bought an old building on Sacramento Street in Lodi, renovated it into a men’s homeless shelter and sold it to the Salvation Army. Her involvement in nonprofits continues today. She’s now providing flowers to Gospel Center Rescue Mission, Hospice House of San Joaquin and Uplift All, a nonprofit started by her friend Sharon Benninger. They pick up past-their-prime flowers donated by Trader Joe’s and Carol helps her clean them up and create beautiful arrangements to place throughout Hospice House. “I’m so grateful to be able to do this. Through Sharon, I’ve also helped create flowers for teas, graduations and weddings at Gospel Center, St. Mary’s, Haven of Peace and Grace and Mercy. People who have never had someone give them flowers are so grateful; I’m speechless at their smiles and hugs,” she mused.

Her husband, she assured, is her rock, reality checker, biggest fan and supporter. From cutting chicken wire for her vases and critiquing her arrangements to cleaning up messes, he never blinks an eye. “I call him my chief logistics officer,” she winked.

Revealing Crisis
Her health is something Carol does not like to put at center stage, but being the strong woman she is, she once again has stepped outside of her comfort zone to share her story with HERLIFE readers. “With experiencing only Graves’ disease, caused by an overactive thyroid gland, and having both hips replaced over ten years ago, I’ve been extremely healthy, so it was a complete surprise when I received a call one day telling me breast cancer showed up in my December 2016 mammogram. 

“The call came from Dr. Kenneth Mullen, who had been my doctor for a very long time and had seen me and my children though years of various issues, but since I hadn’t been seeing him during his semi-retirement, I was incredibly touched that he wanted to be the one to give me this news. This started my journey and the personal, caring involvement of the many people committed to giving me the best care and advice throughout this scary time. One call started a chain of visits, decisions, three surgeries and radiation treatments lasting over six months. I was grateful that I did not need to have chemotherapy treatments. 

“Against the constant advice of my family, I kept working, watching grandbabies and doing events while going to treatments and stubbornly being an ‘I can do this’ kind of person. I was trying to keep up the pace of a normal life until one day I completely broke down in utter exhaustion. My incredibly kind boss, Tom Bowe, immediately sent me home with instructions to not even call for two weeks; then, he said, ‘We will talk about what’s best for you.’ I just didn’t want to believe this was going to stop me from living my life as I always had. I felt it was me or cancer and if I kept on doing what I always did, I would win. 

“I didn’t realize how wrong I was. I needed rest, I needed quiet, I needed to rely on others and I needed to know God still had a plan for my changed life. I kept these emotions bottled up for months until I picked up a sealed envelope holding the results of my first mammogram since the diagnosis,” Carol revealed. “I took it from the receptionist, headed to my car and sat down inside. I slowly opened the envelope and read the findings. ‘Clear’ was the only word I saw through my tears as I sat there and had an ugly cry. If you think these things only happen to other people, not yourself, and let doctor appointments and mammograms slip by, don’t! This regularly scheduled mammogram saved my life.”

The Power of Love
She hopes her story will inspire others and put them on a path to a healthier, happier, more fulfilling life. Her faith is real and determines how she lives her life. She knows that God always has a plan in the midst of whatever she is going through, and that He is not punishing or abandoning her in these circumstances. “Life as a Christian doesn’t mean life with no problems. It means God is before you, beside you and after you and He wants you to lean into Him, rely on Him, not your own resources. I rely on Him for wisdom, discernment, strength, peace and I know that He has amazing things in store for me, as I trust Him and listen to His guidance,” she stressed. “I trust God will use this story for His purposes.”   

She learned a valuable lesson about unconditional love as she experienced an abundant outpouring of love, giving, support, dinners, daily notes, overnighted packages and more. She emphasized how much she appreciated the program at St. Joseph’s Dignity Health and she’s extremely grateful for her amazing surgeon and the skilled and compassionate doctors, nurses and technicians. Throughout all the treatments, from CT scans, multiple mammograms, biopsies, multiple surgeries and radiation treatments, every single person treated her with dignity and respect.  

“You lose your privacy and modesty during a time like this, and their sensitivity meant so much to me. After treatments, both my surgeon, Dr. Simeon, and my radiation oncologist, Dr. Singh, thoroughly gave me all the information regarding further treatments, risks and benefits and I chose to not take any further medications. I see my surgeon and doctor twice a year and have a follow-up mammogram each December,” she related. “As of today, I’m cancer free! Even though tomorrow is unknown, I’m a positive person and I look forward to each new day as an adventure. We can’t control so much of what happens in our life, but we can determine our attitudes, follow our passions, help others and step out in faith. Wait ’til you see what happens! As one of my devotionals says, ‘Let your heart run wild.’”