In April 2012 “SURVIVOR: Millennials vs. GenX” contestant Sunday Burquest was diagnosed with “Invasive, Ductile Carcinoma,” the most common form of breast cancer. In the months following the diagnosis she had seven surgeries, eight rounds of chemotherapy and 28 days of radiation.
“From there, I was just going through the motions and I just had no idea there were so many different decisions to make, so many different doctors to talk to and so many different appointments, I got to where I could only look at one thing at a time,” Burquest said. “Many people have a good understanding of the physical toll breast cancer takes on a person, but have no idea there is a great deal of emotional and mental baggage that accompanies the disease.”
After beating cancer, she knew there was nothing she couldn’t do and was able to fulfill her lifelong dream to be on “Survivor,” her favorite TV show.
“My family and I joked about it in the beginning,” Burquest said. “Then once I had beaten cancer, I thought ‘wait a minute, I just beat cancer, what am I waiting for?’”
Burquest, a married mother of four, applied to the show and was selected for season 33 which aired last fall. It was there that she had a life-changing moment. On the four-year anniversary of her diagnosis, her team, the GenXers received tree-mail and she knew a challenge was coming.
“They had my confessional before I went out there and I shared my story – that it was important to me to win the challenge since it was on the anniversary of my diagnosis” Burquest said. “The producer was crying, the camera guys were crying, everyone was crying and they asked ‘what would it mean to you to win today?’ I told her it would mean that I kicked cancer’s ass, really.”
Burquest, who is a woman of strong faith, went with her team to the beach for the second immunity challenge of “SURVIVOR: Millennials vs. Gen-X” called “The Ocean.”
“I remember Jeff Probst explaining the challenge and pointing out a particular during the challenge task that would earn one a hero moment,” she recalled. “It was at that very moment I decided to make sure I was one of the tribe members jumping off the floating platform about 10 feet high. Even though I was scared out of my mind, mostly afraid of doing poorly in the challenge, I swam, climbed, jumped and swam again as quickly as I could. Gen-X would prevail that day; our first immunity challenge win was under our belts.”
For most of her tribe, it was simply a win, a way to avoid tribal council. For Burquest, it was much more – it was symbolic.
“As if being chosen to play this amazing game weren’t enough, I was able to experience something on an entirely different level, something more than simply being on a reality television show,” Burquest explained. “The day I jumped off the platform for my hero moment, I plunged into the ocean carrying the emotional leftovers of cancer with me. Swimming to the surface something happened, I couldn’t have verbalized it at the time, but later it became crystal clear. I jumped in that day a woman still carrying breast cancer with me and came out of the water a new person, someone finally free of something that had consumed by life for the past four years. I left the emotional baggage of breast cancer in the waters of Fiji.”
After the challenge, she finally came clean to her tribe members about her cancer fight, something she didn’t share with them previously.
“Somehow it just felt like it was this moment, like something changed. I left that cancer back in the water,” she said.
Burquest is just one of the more than 100 reality television stars headed to Temecula in April for the seventh annual Reality Rally April 6-8.
The Reality Rally is important to Burquest given her own recent experience with cancer. She said she’s thrilled to have the opportunity to support Michelle’s Place and give back to women facing this terrible disease.
“I want to be encouraging to women of all kinds, those fighting breast cancer, and even those who aren’t,” Burquest said.
Burquest, whose passion for public speaking gave her the motivation to recently launch a public speaking career, had no idea what she was in for with her diagnosis but said it was a lesson to realize that even though you get a piece of paper saying you are in remission doesn’t mean that it is done. She is currently traveling, sharing her inspirational and motivational message to both faith and non-faith based groups.
“My experience has given me a passion to help other women and families dealing with this disease,” she said. “Breast cancer is awful to fight; the only thing worse is trying to fight it alone. Having the emotional and financial support of others is critical to the recovery process. This is why I am so excited to participate in this years’ Reality Rally supporting Michelle’s Place, Breast Cancer Resource Center.”
Burquest hopes her participation in Reality Rally helps to raise awareness of Michelle’s Place while raising funds for women who may find themselves in the same situation she was in back in 2012.
“I hope it brings a personal touch and a real face to it,” she said. “I hope that the women receiving care and support from Michelle’s Place will have their hero moment right in their own homes.”
For more information on Reality Rally, to purchase tickets to events, or to sign-up to play the game, visit www.realityrally.com.