Stomach cancer survivor Ron Dunnahoo first knew something was wrong when he began having severe indigestion. This was something new. He was long used to eating whatever he wanted with no problem. In summer 2014, he went to the doctor, who ran some imaging tests and diagnosed mild acid reflux.
But Dunnahoo felt sure there was more to it. He returned to the doctor and insisted on seeing a specialist. In January 2015, he underwent a test called upper endoscopy, in which the doctor uses a scope to see inside the stomach. The doctor saw a large tumor. It had narrowed the opening of Dunnahoo’s stomach to the size of the diameter of a ball point pen. In addition, it had spread to his esophagus and lymph nodes.
Dunnahoo was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer, which does not have a high survival rate. When he learned of his diagnosis, Dunnahoo says he thought, “You’ve got to play the cards you’re dealt. It’s either going to kick my butt or I’ll kick its. I’ve got to keep a positive attitude, keep driving forward, and not look back.”
Dunnahoo started chemotherapy to try to shrink the tumor before his surgery, which was scheduled for April 2015. Surgeons removed 2/3 of his stomach, 2 inches of his esophagus, and the lymph nodes below his stomach. About a month later, he started 3 months of radiation and 10 months of chemotherapy.
You’ve got to play the cards you’re dealt. I’ve got to keep a positive attitude, keep driving forward, and not look back.
Dunnahoo had so much trouble eating before his surgery, he lost more than 100 pounds in just a few months. But he did not become sick from chemotherapy, and soon gained enough strength to begin riding his Harley motorcycle to treatments 5 days a week. “I have been so blessed, my thanks to God, for he healed me and gave me the strength to never give up,” said Dunnahoo.
In August 2015, Dunnahoo bought himself a present for getting through treatment so far: a limited edition 2006 V-Rod Screamin’ Eagle Harley to add to his 2005 limited edition Fat Boy. That December, he got his first PET scan results. They showed his treatment had been successful. He had no evidence of cancer.
Dunnahoo continues to have PET scans every 6 months. He had a scare in spring of 2018 when his eating problems returned. But tests showed the culprit was scar tissue. Doctors performed a balloon procedure to stretch out the area, and that relieved his symptoms.
When Dunnahoo was first diagnosed and told his employers about his cancer, he says they wanted to fire him. He fought back by threatening legal action and kept his job. But he was determined to give them no reason to find fault, and he continued to work every day during treatment. “They did it anyway 2 years later,” he said.
These days he works 3 days a week for another employer, and gets disability and social security payments. “I don’t have insurance, but I’ve got my life,” he said. He will be eligible to apply for Medicare in November.
In February 2018, Dunnahoo walked the survivor lap at the American Cancer Society Relay For Life event in Corpus Christi, Texas. “I was in the front of the line,” said Dunnahoo. Relay For Life events are held every year in communities around the world, raising money to invest in research and to provide information and services to cancer patients and caregivers.
Dunnahoo said he enjoyed meeting other cancer survivors at the event. When he sees others going through cancer treatment, Dunnahoo tells them his story to try to encourage them during difficult days of treatment. “My advice,” he says, “is keep your faith, stay strong, never give up, and fight like you’ve never fought before.”
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Due to the impact of COVID-19 on American Cancer Society resources, we are no longer able to review new submissions for Stories of Hope.
American Cancer Society news stories are copyrighted material and are not intended to be used as press releases. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.