Plum Woman Completes Late Son's Dream with Book
Michael Dunlap of Plum always wanted to be a writer, but when he died at age 24, his mother stepped up and wrote a book in his honor.
It's not rare for mothers to help their children accomplish their dreams, but one Plum mother did not let the death of her youngest son get in the way.
Last month, Sue Ellen Dunlap released her book, "Love and Miss You," in honor of her late 24-year-old son Michael, who died of brain cancer in 2011.
Michael, a 2004 Plum High School graduate and a former hockey player, loved to write, and hoped to write about his experience battling cancer. He never got that chance, and Dunlap said she made it her duty to live out his dream.
"I promised myself that I would do it for him," she said.
Michael's run in with cancer began in May 2007, when he suffered a seizure on the golf course at the age of 20. Doctors initially said he had a brain lesion, but by December of that year, Michael had brain surgery to remove a tumor.
At that time, Michael and his family exchanged the words, "Love and miss you," after every conversation.
After undergoing radiation and chemotherapy sessions, he went in for MRIs every four months and was in the clear for the next two years—he even graduated with his bachelors degree at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Then, in late 2010, doctors found another tumor that had fingered out into multiple areas of his brain. A graduate student just nine credits shy of his degree, Michael had to drop out of school.
He died March 27, 2011.
Dunlap—a teacher at Verner Elementary School—begins the book from the very beginning, describing the hospital visits and the family's emotions. Her son is described as her hero for his determination to make it through school and for not allowing brain cancer to stop him from living his life.
"Michael could have easy quit school when he was diagnosed the first time, but he graduated from college and went to grad school," Dunlap said. "He still had a sense of humor and made us laugh through the end. He was very brave."
Several e-mails between Michael and his parents, as well as written passages by Michael, are included in the book.
"In grad school he wrote a few pieces about how he was feeling and about hockey," Dunlap said. "This is my way of honoring my son's desire to tell his story.
"His dream was to be a writer, and it makes me happy that his words are published."
But it wasn't an easy process.
"I knew this is what he wanted, but it was difficult to go through it all again," Dunlap said. "I didn't start writing the book until the summer after he died, but reliving everything was hard.
"It helped me accept reality and get through the first year without him. There were a lot of sleepless nights."
The book was released in September and can be purchased at www.loveandmissyou.net, Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and xlibris.com.
"I hope this book can inspire people to keep on living," Dunlap said.
She and her husband, Bill, are in the process of honoring another of Michael's wishes—to go on with their lives.
"We decided that life does have to go, but we want to inspire people and give back in his honor," Dunlap said.
The family had adopted two miles of Route 286 in Plum—from Pine Valley Drive to the Monroeville park-and-ride lot—in Michael's name. Crews clean that stretch of the road several times a year.
They also plan to volunteer at hospice care facilities to give thanks for the care Michael received in his last days, and to train a therapy dog to take to Children's Hospital for visits.
"There are two ways you can get through this—either let it take over or do good things to help others and get by," Dunlap said. "This is how we're dealing with it.
"Michael's older brother, Chris, said it best—'If we can't get back to our lives, cancer takes over us all.'"