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Patti Burns undergoes treatment for cancer

Thursday, June 28, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Former KDKA-TV anchor Patti Burns, one of the most recognizable names in Pittsburgh broadcasting, has been quietly undergoing treatment for cancer since April, when she discovered a lump above her collarbone that turned out to be an enlarged lymph node. It was removed and found to be malignant.

"That started a whole whirlwind," said Burns, 49.

Patti Burns (Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette)

She began 2 1/2 weeks of radiation treatment immediately, but continued to be active in the community, emceeing the Catholic Youth Association's annual Art Rooney Award banquet April 30 at the end of her course of radiation. She also continues to work with clients of her media training and video production company, Burns Communications.

After the surgery there were signs the cancer had spread, but, Burns said, "it was good we caught it, because they feel they can contain this now with the combination of radiation and chemotherapy."

The support of her longtime companion, attorney Charles C. Cohen, is also a "key part" of the story, Burns said. After the initial diagnosis, "when we got in the car, the only thing he wanted was for me to marry him."

And they were married May 18 in the chambers of Judge Bernard McGinley, the son of her godparents, Jack and Marie McGinley. Cohen's mother, Geraldine Cohen, gave Burns away.

"We had to borrow rings it was so fast," she said.

In an interview yesterday, Burns declined to discuss all the details of her cancer.

Burns continues with chemotherapy and said doctors are monitoring her progress. She recently had a CT scan and she said doctors "are calling it terrific."

"The reports are good," Burns said. "Everybody's optimistic. I just look at it as a chronic illness. I don't look at it any other way. It doesn't have to have the frightening connotation most people think. There are new drugs today and we have the best possible health care here, so there's only reason for optimism.

"The heroes are the men and women who work in the oncology department and give you the IVs," Burns said.

She also gave high marks to the Center for Complementary Medicine at UPMC Shadyside, which provided her with guidance on nutrition and body imagery.

"They help you deal with all those peripheral things, stresses and getting the mind and body working to build your immune system," she said. "The support they can give you is so important. It really helped."

Burns said she hasn't let cancer stop her from getting out, including a Pirates game Friday with team owner and friend Kevin McClatchy. "We've been living our lives as normally as possible," she said.

Burns anchored her last KDKA newscast in January 1997. She worked at the station for more than 22 years, leaving after she failed to come to terms on a new contract with station management.

The Pittsburgh native started at KDKA as a reporter in 1974 and became part of the first father-daughter news anchor team in 1976 when she was paired with Bill Burns on the noon broadcast. Later they worked together on the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. The legendary newsman died in September 1997.

Since leaving KDKA, Burns formed her own production company and produced and appeared in commercials for the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. When it began, Burns also contributed reports to "On Q," WQED's nightly TV newsmagazine.

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