Edgar Burn leans back in the chair he has propped against the storefront of downtown’s Mecca Tattoo and fixes his gaze squarely on me.
Then, in a reversal of roles, he asks me the uncomfortable question: “So, why are you apprehensive to ask about my cancer?”
Anyone who writes news for a living has done a cancer interview. Recent estimates from the American Cancer Society indicate there are 13.7 million cancer survivors in the United States. In 10 years, that number could swell to 18 million.
But, that doesn’t make the subject matter any more comfortable for some.
Many victims of cancer would rather not discuss the day their doctor gave them the news. Many would rather not re-live the moments of weakness or the moments of pain when death seems an almost welcome alternative to grueling chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Even survivors can be reluctant to speak about their trials and triumph.
“It’s time for that,” said Burn, who also works as a radio host and mechanic. “We’ve got to start talking about this.”
And Burn begins with himself.
Little over three years ago, the man who is returning to the stage this Saturday (more on that later) was told by a doctor that he had stage IV pancreatic cancer. Just four percent of pancreatic cancer victims survive after five years. Shortly after his diagnosis, Burn began taking part in a trial for a new chemotherapy treatment. Of the 70 that started the trial, only a handful are still alive.
“I was basically told I had six months to live,” he said. “My doctor called me the ‘miracle child.’”
Though lesions remain on his liver and pancreas, the cancer is now relatively stable. Burn goes to Rochester once a week for treatments and experiences occasional pain in his abdomen, but he’s alive. And he’s ready to celebrate that fact.
“I haven’t done much since my diagnosis,” Burn said. “I want to start dealing with life again.”
After playing only sporadically for the past few years, Burn returns to the stage on Saturday.
The Rhythmaplex Project is Burn’s longtime showcase for experimental rock. With shows that include power tools, a giant sledgehammer and industrially made instruments, Rhythmaplex is one of Mankato’s most visual bands. Ratrod, however, is Burn’s newest venture. Burn likened the band with three drummers to a “misfit orchestra.”
Mankato punk-rock mainstays Old Towne Ghosts and Memphis Steve Anderson will also perform.
“This might be the only show,” he said, “but for all I know, it’s the start of something new.”
Burn did help start something new a few years ago with the Midwest Art Catalyst, a non-profit devoted to providing funding for local fine arts projects, particularly those that involve children.
MWAC recently donated $750 to the 410 Project and another $750 to the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota.