Everyone experiences tragedy at some point within his or her life, but the ways in which one
responds to the tragedy can be very different.
Some react with bitterness, while others take their negative experiences and use it as
motivation to help others in similar struggles.
Linley Dunn, class of 2013, is one such person. After her mother’s untimely death from
breast cancer only two years ago, Dunn became motivated to raise breast cancer awareness on
the Maryville College campus and in the local community.
Dunn is a person who exudes a sense of inner calmness and a joy in living. She is a highly
involved member of the student body, serving as class senator in SGA, an RA in Davis Hall
and the co-chair of the Compassion Committee. Dunn is also devoted to athletics, and plays
volleyball on campus.
“Sports have always been there to help me get through things,” Dunn said. “They’re my
Dunn was 10 when she found out that her mother, Gretchen Watson, had breast cancer. Her
younger sister Anya was only four.
“ [Mother] went through everything: chemo, radiation. Everything,” Dunn said. “And the
doctors cleared her, so we thought that it had gone away.”
However, the cancer returned more forcefully when Dunn was 16.
Dunn said that her mother was the biggest inspiration to her in her life.
“She was such a wonderful person. She was kind and funny and had the most positive
attitude on life,” Dunn said. “Even when she was the sickest, she kept that positive attitude.”
Dunn said that she remembers how her mother began to let her know that the she would
not survive her bout with the cancer.
“We were in the car one day, and I was driving,” Dunn said. “She looked over at me and
said, ‘Linley, I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it to your graduation. ’”
Instead of trying to play down her mother’s fears, Dunn responded with a maturity that far
exceeded her years.
“I told her, ‘That’s ok, I don’t want you to worry about it,’” Dunn said. “’Let’s just take it one
day at a time.’”
Only a few months later, her mother fell into a much-worsened state.
“My granddad came to pick us up from school one day and said that the doctors were saying
that she wouldn’t make it through the night,” Dunn said.
That night, Dunn had a volleyball game at her high school. Instead of missing the event, she
remembered words that her mother had told her when she was still able to talk.
“She had told me that she didn’t want her illness to hold me back,” Dunn said. “She had told
me to keep playing sports, to go to college where I wanted to and to pursue anything I wanted
to. She never wanted to keep me from doing anything I loved.”
After coming back from the game, Dunn sat with her mom until her aunt took her and her
sister back to her house. Just as they arrived back at the house, they got the call from the
hospital saying that her mother had just passed away.
“I have never been a person who cries,” Dunn said. “I didn’t cry then. I just felt like I couldn’t
breathe, like I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.”
Dunn said that one of the biggest parts of the healing process for her was becoming a
student at MC.
“I have a hard time opening up,” Dunn said. “I have always been the one that everybody
leans on. It’s taken a long time for me to learn that I can lean on someone else. People here at
MC have taught me about that.”
Since coming to MC, Dunn has become increasingly interested in taking action to make
others, especially young women, aware of breast cancer prevention and also in raising money
to help find a cure.
In late October, Dunn, along with another RA, held a program that focused on helping
women in college to learn about self-examination techniques. This program helped Dunn to
become aware of how many people on the MC campus alone have been affected by breast
“It was just so crazy to me,” Dunn said. “Every girl in that room had a family member that
had had breast cancer. I lived with my mom having cancer for so long that it was just everyday
life for me. I never realized how many other people dealt with it.”
She is also planning to hold several more programs that deal with breast cancer awareness
in the future. Dunn is also evaluating interest for a club on campus that would be a support
system for students being affected by cancer and a way to raise funds for a cure.
“I never want anyone to go through what I have gone through,” Dunn said. “I don’t want
anybody else to feel that heartbreak.”