Fight against cancer is the tie that binds for Lee’s Summit family

tporter@lsjournal.comMay 22, 2013 

  • 388 The number of students who graduated May 15 from Lee’s Summit West High School. The group included Austin Burau, who has accepted a football scholarship to college while helping his mother deal with the challenges of cancer.

It’s been a week since Austin Burau and 387 other members of the class of 2013 graduated from Lee’s Summit West High School.

Burau, an all-conference and all-state football player in 2012 for the Titans’ football team, helped the Titans to a 44-5 overall record in his four years at the school. He also played basketball and ran track. In fact, he’ll compete at the state championship meet this weekend in Jefferson City as a member of the school’s 4x400 relay team.

Competing on championship-type squads is nothing new for Burau, who was a member of the Titans’ 2010 state championship football team and its 2011-2012 basketball team that finished the season third in the state.

Those accomplishments are great, but not what Burau considers his greatest achievement after joining his classmates at West during graduation ceremonies May 15. A day after crossing the stage and celebrating the feat at a Project Grad event, Burau let in on what he cherished most after four years in high school.

“I think the state championships are a bigger stage,” he said. “More people can see you. I think it’s more exciting, but, in the end, probably getting the diploma is the most rewarding because I can achieve more from that. It’ll help me more in the future, but both are amazing accomplishments.”

Burau’s mother, Rhonda VanSickle, said it was emotional watching her middle son receive his diploma. The two spent time the morning after graduation talking and catching up. VanSickle, who is battling cancer, was, without a doubt, proud of Burau.

“It was very, very emotional,” she said of Burau’s graduation. “This was surreal; one of my goals, by far. When you have Stage IV cancer, you have a lot of these little goals you want to make it to and this was a big one for me.”

VanSickle’s fight against cancer forged an already tight bond between her and her three sons. When Burau, who has a football scholarship to Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, first heard the news, he said he decided then he would do all he could to lessen the struggle.

“When I first found out, it was my sophomore year during basketball season,” he said. “I just broke down the first time I heard. I cried, I hugged her and I decided I was going to try to make my going to college not a stressful thing – try to get there on my own. I worked real hard; I earned a scholarship. I tried to ease the stress and make everything easy for her. I tried to make her most comfortable and most proud, and I think I’ve done that.”

Burau’s mother marveled at his focus.

“We couldn’t have asked for any more,” VanSickle said. “He was (best) senior-athlete of his class – which is the top athlete award – which was awesome; it goes to the athlete that has lettered in all three sports. He’s done that all four years.

“High school football was amazing. His season was flawless. He was all-state. It was fun picking the college that we did. It was a perfect fit for us, and it was a good fit for being close to home for me to go see him. I’m very proud of him. I’m just amazed he accomplished so much with the pressure and the strain with having to deal with my struggles, too.”

Despite many accolades on the field and in the classroom, Burau, 18, recently accomplished another feat that made Van Sickle smile.

“He’s celebrating (graduation) with a job,” she said. “He’s so excited he’s got a job.”

Added Burau, a new, baby-faced employee of Hy-Vee: “It’s my first job. Playing three sports all year around, I haven’t had much time to be employed.”

Burau even poked fun at his once-in-a-lifetime achievement of high school graduation.

“I feel old,” he joked. “I can’t believe it’s over. It seems like it was just yesterday I was walking into summer weights my freshman year, now I’m attending college and…I don’t know, I didn’t expect it to happen this fast.”

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