Diagnosed with a rare type of lymphoma at the age of 18, Dunham is now healthy at 36 and has become a frequently published author.

Diagnosed with a rare type of lymphoma at the age of 18, Dunham is now healthy at 36 and has become a frequently published author.

by Lou Mancinelli

More than a decade after doctors told him he had six months to live, numerous times after being crippled by radiation to treat his cancer, T. Fox Dunham was bedridden for years. He had to learn to walk again, used a cane.

Now Dunham has been published more than 200 times in a variety of magazines and journals, largely as a writer of horror fiction, which he writes a few days a week, all day long, at Starbucks, on Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill.

In November Dunham read from his newest novella, “Dr. Kevorkian Goes to Heaven” (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing {PMMP}, 2014) as part of the Mt. Airy Read and Eat. His first book, “The Street Martyr” (2014), also from PMMP, is being produced by Throughline Films into a major motion picture, and his recently released anthology with Hazardous Press is titled “The Rip and the Rhythm.”

Diagnosed with a rare type of lymphoma at the age of 18, Dunham was waiting to die. He was treated at the University of Pennsylvania with intense radiation and chemotherapy. His doctor told him he wasn’t sure if the treatment was worth it, because afterwards, Dunham could be near brain dead.

“You can imagine that lying down is conducive to writing,” he said during a recent telephone interview.

The story of overcoming cancer is intermingled in “Dr. Kevorkian Goes to Heaven.” In the novella Kevorkian invents an immortality machine before he dies. When he dies he goes to heaven, a place he never believed existed. There he and God watch the immortality machine create a stasis on Earth. No one dies, no one is born, there is no change. In essence, “People just turn into statues, and all things stop,” Dunham said.

“He decided it would be of great value to society to obviate the question of mortality, so civilization would no longer be pestered by such antagonizing questions such as when is death death?,” Dunham writes in the opening paragraphs of the Kevorkian novel.

“I have no vanity,” the character, speaking as Kevorkian, says later in the story. “Pain destroyed my ego.”

In the story the character sets out on an exploration of pain, transforming its feeling into music, harmony, and cutting through pain as though it was a veil; behind it lay a fundamental truth to life. One wonders then, the journey of suffering Dunham himself has lived, if he may explore it so vividly with his characters.

Before being diagnosed Dunham wanted to become a historian. His lymphoma has been in remission since he was 19. The cancer is sleeping, doctors say; he was told he’ll never be cancer free but that he’s past the point where one needs to aggressively scan for malignancies.

In his 20s he worked in a historian’s role at Pennsbury Manor, William Penn’s former Morrisville estate, now a museum, where he learned a great deal about pre-Revolutionary War medicine.

Dunham, 36, has written stories since he was a kid, but he seriously began pursuing writing fiction about five years ago. After seeing the movie “K-Pax,” a film with Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges, he wrote an email to Gene Brewer, who had written the screenplay and the novel the film was based on.

They kept in touch. Dunham sent Brewer some of his work. Brewer encouraged him. Now Dunham earns enough writing fiction to be part of the Horror Writers Association, and with sale of “The Street Martyr,” a story about poverty in Philadelphia, to the movies, expects to continue making a living as a writer.

He’s written erotica as well, and his books are available in stores and online at Amazon. Dunham, called “Fox” by his friends, published his first story three years ago.

He said he never really wrote noir or horror before the lymphoma. When he started writing a few years ago, he tried a number of genres, like science-fiction and literary fiction. When he got continued responses from the horror pieces, Dunham went where the success led him.

Hidden beneath the horror Dunham conjures, is an exploration of real-world issues of hope, and overcoming struggle. Living with pain and overcoming staggering odds are realities he has lived with for the past 17 years.

For Dunham, a Lansdale resident, writing about horror, delving among the genre of noir, is a way to face death so that his characters may come closer to knowing life. He writes about killers, World War II, Nazis. He’s scared by poverty and exploitation of the weak, not vampires and monsters.

“There’s a certain fascination to the underbelly of darkness,” he said.

“Drama is about conflict … Those deeper darker answers that lie in the human heart … What attracts me to it is the spirit that overcomes.”

His next novel, “Searching For Andy Kaufman,” due next year from PMMP, is about how the famous comedian played with life and death, how he played with reality and blended the lines between reality and illusion. The main character is an 18-year-old, dying of cancer, who has chosen to die. He doesn’t know who his father is, and some of his mother’s clues lead him to believe it’s Kaufman. So he and friend go on a search for Kaufman.

“I understand what it’s like to suffer and have no way out,” said Dunham, who was born in Scotland but raised mostly around Philadelphia. That’s the kind of attitude he wants his characters to represent and somehow walk out from among the dead.

“I would love to say that I chose to survive,” Dunham said about overcoming cancer. He wishes he could point to faith, positive thinking or anything at all. But he doesn’t know why. So he writes.

More information at tfoxdunham.blogspot.com.