Telling Our Stories: Steve Burley

Steve works in finance as an accountant for Presidium, a company that helps prevent child abuse. His wife Tena is the senior development director for Presbyterian Communities & Services.

Steve and Tena have three adult children: Laura who lives in Oklahoma City, and Jake and Kyle who both live in Dallas.

My wife had visited First Presbyterian Church of Dallas a handful of times through her work. Three years ago she came home and said, “You have to come with me to this church.”

I remember my first visit. It was right before the Sanctuary closed for renovation and I can honestly say I had never been in such a beautiful worship space. My wife and I loved the sermon and were particularly impressed by the impact the church had—and still has—on the surrounding community.

One night last year I was lying in bed struggling to breathe—like someone was sitting on my chest. Afraid that I was having a heart attack, we got up and drove to the doctor. After performing some tests, the doctor came in to tell us that while I hadn’t had a heart attack, I did have a mass the size of a lime growing next to my heart and lungs. It was a rare, slow-growing cancer: stage three thymoma.

The medical team met and suggested I undergo chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.

Steve and his wife Tena.

Steve and his wife Tena.

After the first of five rounds of chemo, one of my kidneys started to fail. On top of that, the surgery to remove the mass was supposed to be a get-in-get-out 2-hour ordeal. It ended up taking ten hours, with the surgical team removing the tumor and everything it has spread to touch: half of my left lung and the nerve that controls the diaphragm. Two days in the hospital turned into three weeks.

Over the past year, I have been in the hospital four times. In my mind, my wife has been affected equally if not more than me because she has had to care for me on top of keeping everything in the household moving. Throughout that time though, the church took care of both of us, each with our own unique needs.

About two weeks after telling our Bible study group about my cancer, Bonnie brought a prayer shawl to me during the Sunday school hour. It’s hard to put into words how it felt to have that warmth put into my hands right before going through chemo.

After my surgery, the first face I remember seeing in the ICU was that of Joe Williams from the hospital visitation ministry at the church. I didn’t expect it—I didn’t even know Joe at the time. He came in and said “You don’t know me, but I’m from your church and I’m here to pray with you.” And he wasn’t the only one. Many people came to visit after that.

A few weeks later, my sister was in town on a Sunday. After we had watched the service online, two ladies from the church took time out of their day to bring us communion, serving it to us right in our living room. It was beautiful.

There’s nothing more important than having a family when you go through something like this, whether it’s the family you grew up with, the family you have currently, or your church family. At the end of the day, having someone there for you—to take care of you, to love you—when you go through what I’ve gone through, it’s everything. I don’t know what we would have done without our family at First Presbyterian Church of Dallas.