Ken Burger is rarely short on words. Well-known author and former Post and Courier columnist, Burger has been a prominent voice in the Lowcountry for decades, but on Thursday, May 21, when the Roper St. Francis Foundation and Cancer Center leaders dedicated a consultation room in his honor, he was nearly speechless.
“I was completely honored and humbled,” says Burger, who has been a Roper St. Francis prostate cancer patient for the last eight years. “I never ever expected this kind of recognition. What I do is such a small thing compared to what the doctors and staff do in caring for patients.”
But the cancer program staff, and the many patients who have been comforted and helped by Burger’s visits with them in waiting rooms, beg to differ.
“Through his personal involvement as a lay navigator for our cancer program, Ken has so generously shared his wisdom and experiences with our prostate cancer patients and had a major positive impact on the prostate cancer patients’ experience at Roper St. Francis,” says Dr. Steve Akman, medical director of Roper St. Francis Cancer Care, who was on hand at the plaque presentation.
What Ken Burger does so well is that old fashioned thing called human connection. There’s no app for that, but there is an art to it – the art of sharing without intruding, of comforting without trivializing, of offering smiles and even humor in not-so-funny places. “But I’m careful not to make the guys who’ve just had surgery laugh. I know that hurts,” he chuckles, with echoes of that folksy, guy-next-door tone that makes his prose so relatable.
“It’s just a niche that I thought I could fill,” says Burger, whose wife Bonnie joined him for the recognition event. “I’ve been in that waiting room. I know what it’s like. I don’t come in as a doctor or minister but as a fellow cancer patient, and that immediately puts us on the same level. It’s like only people who’ve been in combat can only really talk to another combat soldier.”
Burger openly chronicled his cancer journey in a Post and Courier column and later right here on this blog, and so his personal experience has always had a public element to it. “When I was first diagnosed I was scared to death,” he says, but through writing about it, and through readers from across the state who reached out and shared their experiences with him, that fear dissipated. “It’s like we’re all members of a big club. Knowing you’re not alone really helps,” he adds.
In addition to his visits with patients, Burger teaches writing workshops for recently-diagnosed cancer patients who want to express themselves. He also sponsors the Ken Burger Prostate Challenge Golf Tournament, held annually at Kiawah Island. Proceeds from the tournament support a nurse navigator for prostate cancer patients. The new Ken Burger Consultation Room will be located on the 7th Floor of Roper Hospital, in the Cancer Center.