Dacia D. Dunson, 33, copy editor at The Sun

May 16, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

Dacia D. Dunson, a copy editor for The Sun who wrote of fighting her cancer over the past two years, died of the disease Friday at her Federal Hill home. She was 33.

Born and raised in Anniston, Ala., she earned a bachelor's degree in mass communications from Auburn University in 1996. She became a speech teacher in Dallas public schools before joining the editing staff of Newsday in Long Island, N.Y., in 2000. She moved to Baltimore a year later when she joined the news copy desk of The Sun.

"Everyone who knew Dacia loved her," said Jennifer Badie, features copy desk chief at The Sun. "She had friends throughout the newsroom - reporters, photographers, editors all gravitated to her. She was a thoughtful, caring friend who was always easy to talk to and always smiling.

"Even during her illness, she went out of her way to show people she cared about them - whether it was remembering birthdays or sending flowers to a friend going through a hard time," Ms. Badie said yesterday.

She also recalled Ms. Dunson as "a dedicated, dependable copy editor, who always worked at the highest level," adding that reporters and editors "appreciated her attention to detail and the depth at which she cared about her work and the newspaper."

Ms. Dunson edited stories that appeared in the national, international and Maryland pages of the paper before moving to the features department. Her last assignment was as copy editor overseeing the Health & Science section.

"Dacia was lit from within," said Mary J. Corey, the paper's assistant managing editor for features. "She had a beautiful smile and immense warmth, an indomitable spirit and irresistible charm."

John E. McIntyre, The Sun's assistant managing editor for the copy desk, said, "From her first day among us, Dacia showed herself to be smart, quick to learn, eager to master the craft and unfailingly cheerful."

Ms. Dunson, who had been an ardent Atlanta Braves fan, added the Orioles to her favorite teams and followed the careers of players Javy Lopez - a former Brave - and Brian Roberts. She attended classic film screenings at the Charles Theatre and watched dozens of films at home.

About a week after she turned 31, and a month before she was to be married to Sun colleague Michael Workman, she was diagnosed with colon cancer that had spread to the liver.

"I had no idea that people my age got that disease. And could this really be happening now?" she wrote in an account of her illness, "Living her life, just waiting for her luck to turn," published in February in The Sun.

Ms. Dunson went on to be married at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2004.

"That day was the happiest day of my life. I danced the whole night," she wrote. "And for those four hours, I forgot about the moment that my life changed forever. We left for our honeymoon the next day. We were gone for about 10 days and went to Paris, Nice and London. It was wonderful."

Months of chemotherapy followed.

"Initially, every time I went, I couldn't help feeling that I wasn't supposed to be there. But there I was, getting chemicals pumped through my body for about six hours straight. I did this every two weeks. Chemotherapy and doctor's appointments, PET, MRI and CT scans, hope and disappointments. ...

"Or when you look at old pictures of yourself and you don't look the same - you've lost your hair, and your face, neck and shoulders are covered with an acne-like rash because of the drugs. Or when your friends are having babies, but you can't do this because of the chemotherapy and the uncertainty of everything."

Last May, she and her husband sought a second opinion in New York. "The appointment was on my birthday. The doctors there agreed with my doctors here: surgery was not an option. Hearing `no' a second time didn't make the news any easier to swallow. We made the most of the trip. We got to see our friends' baby who was born the day before, and we went out for a nice dinner."

Ms. Dunson wrote, "I've tried to live my life as close to normal as possible. I still work full time, go out with friends, travel."

She concluded her article: "Although I know you can't prepare for these things, I'm waiting for another moment, this time one that will change my life for the better."

Ms. Dunson worked until of the end of February - her last project being her own story.

A memorial service will be held at noon Friday at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, Charles Street and Mount Vernon Square.

In addition to her husband, survivors include her mother, Sharon Dunson of Anniston; two brothers, Charles Dunson of Mobile, Ala., and Erskine Dunson, who is on military assignment in Texas; and her maternal grandmother, Annie Mae Dunson of Anniston.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

To read Dacia Dunson's "Real Life" column, go to www.baltimoresun.com/dunson.

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