Edwin Burnett of Southport was diagnosed with cancer when he was two years old. Ryan Lund became his best friend and accompanied Edwin when he came to UNC for chemotherapy. “Ryan had my back,” Edwin explains. The two friends, now both freshman at UNC- Chapel Hill (Edwin) and University of South Carolina (Ryan), completed a senior project called “I’ve Got Your Back.” They collected donated items and put together backpacks for pediatric cancer patients being treated at UNC. Edwin graduated from South Brunswick High School in Southport and Ryan graduated from Hoggard High School in Wilmington.
Edwin explains, “ Ryan and I came up with the idea. Since I was treated so well at UNC I felt it was my responsibility to give back and make the other kids’ time battling cancer more enjoyable.”
Ryan says, “I decided to come up with Edwin to be there and help him get through his treatments, making him laugh whenever he got poked by needles. As Edwin got better, we didn’t have to come up to Chapel Hill as often, so we decided to come up at the holidays and bring a lot of Christmas presents for the kids who have to spend their Christmases in the hospital. I remember coming to Chapel Hill and seeing kids when they first learn they have cancer. It was heart wrenching. But just seeing the smile on their faces after giving them a present, the change in them, it hits you deeply.”
The two young men went to companies and asked for donations of items to place in the backpacks such as colored pencils or notebooks. Some companies gave money to help them purchase items. Edwin says, “When I was battling cancer I had to miss a lot of school so we included some educational things like word searches and note cards, or mathematic times tables. But we also put in things like brain teasers and things to pass the time like a deck of cards. I remember during chemotherapy that I was always cold, so we included hoodies and blankets”
Ryan adds, “I’ve seen kids touring the hospital seeing what was going to happen to them. It was probably the worst days of their lives and for their parents too. At that point in time, if they can receive something to brighten their day, make it less the worst day of their lives, that’s what I’m hoping will happen.”
Edwin concludes, “We’ve been coming to Chapel Hill our whole lives and know how bad cancer truly is. If we can make people’s time there less hurtful, give them a smile, maybe they won’t have to think about their hardships. And maybe the idea will catch on and our project will become much broader with more people to help.”
Edwin in the son of UNC Lineberger Board of Visitors members Carolyn and Edwin Burnett. Ryan is the son of Richard and Barbara Lund of Wilmington.