You often hear that most everyone has been touched by cancer in some way – through a friend, a relative, or perhaps your own cancer journey. For the associates at CDC Federal Credit Union, it’s one of their own, Eric Dunlap, vice president of real estate lending.
In July/August 2000, Dunlap was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. His best course of treatment included a radical mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy.
He recalled when he got the diagnosis after experiencing what he described as a debilitating pain in his chest while exercising, and when clinching his chest during that episode, he felt a lump. He went to the doctor, which led to a referral to an oncologist who performed a biopsy, and about three days later Dunlap heard the news, “I’m sorry, but you have cancer.”
“I was shocked,” he said. “At 34 years old – don’t drink, don’t smoke. Never had a cavity. Never had a broken bone. Never even been hospitalized.”
But the reality is, even though breast cancer is considered a woman’s disease, men also get breast cancer, and Dunlap has a family history of disease. In fact, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer just a mere four years before his diagnosis, and unfortunately, he lost grandmother to the disease.
It’s been 17 years since his battle, and now Dunlap uses his experience to help others.
“Because you’re diagnosed, it doesn’t mean that your prognosis is gloom and doom,” he said, adding that during treatment, everyone has to have their own “go to.” A thing that gives you hope and strength to get up every day and fight the disease.
“My ‘go to’ was prayer,” Dunlap said. “…You’ve got to make the decision that you may have cancer, but the cancer doesn’t have you. You have to decide that you’re going to do everything in your power to defeat it. It has to become a mental mindset, a spiritual mindset and a physical mindset. You’re in battle and you have to decide who is winning.”
And of course you have to have your support system. Dunlap had his family: his wife, who he said was his constant support and his caregiver during his treatment, and their two young sons, who were ages 3 and 13 months at the time he was diagnosed. Thinking about them and their future gave him the vision of the future that he was fighting for.
“I have two little boys that need their dad,” he said. “I wanted to see them graduate from high school. That was a big worry of mine. I just wanted to beat cancer in any way I could so that they wouldn’t grow up without a dad. And to see your son walk across that stage when you didn’t know if you were going to be there – you feel like the luckiest guy in the world.”
In addition to a great medical team, Dunlap said that knowing and being around those who have already defeated the disease is also very important. Survivors can provide support and answers to questions with a special understanding of what a patient is going through and what the patient really needs to know. Talking from his own experience, Dunlap said the survivors he spoke with made it personal. That’s why he is now paying it forward and is part of the American Cancer Society’s Speakers’ Bureau.
“If a perfect stranger can call me out of the blue and talk to me about what I’m dealing with, then I should be able to do it for others as well,” he said.
Dunlap has been speaking for more than 16 years now, lecturing at schools, churches, and more to help others and to raise awareness. Currently he is participating in the “Real Men Wear Pink” initiative to raise awareness and raise funds to go toward research to find a cure.
“Everything needs funding,” he said. “We have to pay for the doctors, the tests, and the equipment. …Real Men Wear Pink gives men a chance to say I want to do something about this disease.”
October was Breast Cancer Awareness month, and to show support for Dunlap and other survivors, as well as those who are currently undergoing treatment for the disease, associates at CDC Federal Credit Union donned pink every Friday during the month of October and held a Pink Ribbon Fundraiser, selling pink ribbons to credit union members and associates. Donations from the fundraiser will go directly to the American Cancer Society.
Betsy Mercier, chief executive officer at the credit union, said it’s great to see CDC Federal Credit Union associates show their support.
“Associates working at CDC Federal Credit Union are passionate to help people achieve well-being, and we recognize physical and fiscal health are interrelated,” she said. “We support research that progresses cures and preventions for human health issues, and we provide financial solutions to help folks improve, or maintain their fiscal wellness. It’s who we are, and it’s what we do.”
And Dunlap’s story touched a nerve and made it personal for the associates.
“We are a small group of people, but we believe we can have a large impact on the lives of others,” Mercier said. “Joining the American Cancer Society’s Breast Cancer Awareness efforts is a natural choice for us.”