Reston, VA

Music has a way of transcending the limited simplicity of words, and it often invokes a greater depth of emotion.

It is with music that Reston native Kelsey Burch, a music teacher at Coates, Sunrise Valley and Vienna elementary schools, is finding her solace as she has navigated an arduous journey through cancer and recently going into remission.

While on this journey, Burch’s passion for music has led her to launch an effort to raise $14,000 on GoFundMe to commission two pieces of music – one of which is a Grade I piece for her elementary students – from composer Brian Balmages, who has agreed to take on the projects.

“It’ll be huge. I mean, the one for my students, it’s just something I always wanted to do. Cancer makes you think about life is short and if I don’t do it now then it won’t happen,” Burch said.

The second piece is what Burch hopes can be a tale of her journey through cancer.

“In the middle of the night, I was thinking about it and then was like, why don’t I do something about my cancer journey? And it made me think of it because Brian wrote a piece that premiered in February called ‘Love and Light’ for a flute player in the Army Band who had a stillborn baby,” Burch said.

“So that’s kind of what spurred me, and I could commission something about what I’ve been through with the heartache and the joy of going through a cancer diagnosis and naturally being in remission.”

In March, Burch was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. Along with a tumor in the colon, the cancer had metastasized in her lymph nodes, liver and abdominal wall.

She underwent the treatment with support from her husband, Rob, her family and an extended group of friends and colleagues. The emergence of COVID-19 didn’t allow for Burch to have visitors with her during each treatment. But the immediate support from her family and friends, to Zoom calls and Facebook Messenger conversations, to a surprise of 100 birthday cards in June, the well wishes and her support group stayed with her through it all.

“People I haven’t talked to for years, from college or people I grew up with, were messaging me and saying they’re thinking about me and supporting me,” Burch said.

“You know, I was getting all these gifts in the mail, and I feel like the support has been overwhelming and I feel like if anything, I’ve gotten closer with all my friends and family during this time, rather than further away. So that’s been wonderful.”

After four months of treatment and eight rounds of chemotherapy, Burch received the news that she was in remission. She has continued to undergo maintenance chemotherapy treatment for what she assumes will be for life, and will undergo a CT or PET scan every three months to check for any signs that cancer has returned.

With her cancer in remission and a determination to share her journey through music and provide a commissioned piece for her students, Burch is looking toward the future. She is also looking to share the experience in one of the most effective ways she knows.

“I think it is hard to pick specific words to explain what it’s like, and I think that’s why I want music to explain that,” Burch said. “(Having) my journey be explained through something so creative is, I think, more than I can do with words. I can write my journal and give you my thoughts, but I feel like music is what’s really going to showcase everything I’ve been through.”

If the fundraising goal is met, the timeline for the Grade I piece would have it delivered by the spring, while the piece written to tell Burch’s journey would be set for a year and a half from now.

More information regarding Burch’s GoFundMe for this cause can be found here.

Photos courtesy Kelsey Burch

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