Cancer survivor celebrates 20th anniversary

Feb. 07, 2013 @ 10:13 PM

It's been 20 years and Barton Dunn is still cancer free.

On Saturday, he will celebrate this milestone with family and friends at the Swan Manor on Ridge Road.

The Monroe resident, who along with his family, operates Dunn Manufacturing in Monroe, was first diagnosed with leukemia after going to see a doctor in 1992 while experiencing flu-like symptoms.

He was later informed that he had a rare form of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), which is usually found in children. At the time of his diagnosis, he was 35, Dunn said.

"It was quite a shock, I had gone to the doctor because I thought I had the flu and they just did some simple blood work and found out that I had childhood leukemia, which to me was just quite a shock, I just didn't know what to think," he said.

 At the time of his diagnosis, he was not expecting what he later had to go through, which included four and a half months of chemotherapy, five days a week, he said.

"I almost died from all the chemotherapy and then I went to Emory (University Hospital) in Atlanta and had a bone marrow transplant from my twin brother. That's where they draw the bone marrow out of the hips and then they filter it and it's like having a blood transfusion," he said.

In addition to this, he had 11 treatments of full body radiation, he said.

"So technically they have to practically kill you first because if there is any cancer left over, that could flare up and then your chance of getting in remission is practically zero," he said.

Most people die from the radiation poisoning and not the cancer. For him, he is glad to now be 20 years cancer free, he said. 

"Very blessed and highly favored. Definitely God was in it, it was only God who brought me through all of what I went through," he said in reference to his thoughts on about being a 20-year cancer survivor.

Dunn grew up in Charlotte and later lived in Waxhaw for 18 years before moving to Monroe. He has lived in Monroe for the last seven years. His advice for others living with any kind of cancer is to do as much research as possible about it, listen to your doctor, look for support groups that could help you through it and be positive, he said.

The event planned for him on Saturday is a celebration of life, he said.

"My theme is 'Love of Life,' because life is very precious and when you have a second chance at life, I learned to appreciate every day and also to be a blessing to others, and to be positive and to make your life count because you've been given a second opportunity to do that," he said.

Family members and friends of his plan to attend Saturday's event and are happy to see him celebrate 20 years cancer free.

"I think it's marvelous," Marcy Dunn, Dunn's mother said.

He previously celebrated both his fifth and 10th year anniversaries of being cancer free and it's hard to believe that it's now 20 years later. She looks forward to Saturday's event, she said.

"I'll be there with bells on," she said.

His twin brother, Steve Dunn, said he is especially happy to see him 20 years cancer free. Both of them have been very close over the years and he was devastated years ago when he first learned that his brother had leukemia.

"I thought I was going to die. I thought that I just couldn't live without him," Steve Dunn said.

His heart sunk when he found out about it and he was happy to later be able to provide his brother with a bone marrow transplant to help him. Today, they are still very close and it is not uncommon for them to talk a couple of times a day, he said.

"I'm happy he survived, I'm very happy but just thinking about what could have been, it's upsetting," he said.

He describes the time period after the transplant as very touch and go for his brother but he's glad he made it through it and is a cancer survivor today, he said.

"We were all holding our breath and thank God he made it through," he said

Ellen Joffe, a friend of Barton Dunn's, feels similarly about him being 20 years cancer free today.

"I think it's wonderful," Joffe said.