News surrounding the Atlanta Summer Olympic Games made most of the headlines in Atlanta in 1996. For George N. Bunch III, publisher of Gilmer County’s Times-Courier newspaper, the year’s lead story was personal. His white blood count was up and a subsequent complete blood count showed it was on the rise.
His primary care physician, Dr. Robert Bond, referred George to Dr. Don Shaffer for a blood marrow biopsy. The results indicated chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a cancer of the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell (called B cells) which spreads through the blood and bone marrow.
George went to another oncologist for a second opinion which confirmed Dr. Shaffer’s diagnosis. He entrusted his care to Dr. Shaffer because of his candor, friendliness and expertise. The physician-patient partnership has lasted almost two decades. “I was 48 years old at the time, considered young for a CLL diagnosis. Typically, patients are 70 before being diagnosed and usually something else gets them before CLL does,” George quipped.
For the last five years, George’s visits to the Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers’ Jasper Cancer Center have tapered off from quarterly visits for blood tests and CT scans to becoming an annual affair. Fortunately for George, his CLL never progressed to the point of needing treatment just a regimen of monitoring known as “watchful waiting.” CLL patients in intermediate or advanced stages of the cancer receive, including chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy and bone marrow stem cell transplant.
“I appreciate Dr. Shaffer and his Jasper cancer care team’s full-time commitment to providing cancer care to the north Georgia communities,” said George. “Living in Ellijay, I like having an accessible and responsive team on my side and close to home.”
George never took his positive prognosis for granted, always grateful for the time to watch his family, community and paper grow. He’s spent the last few years preparing for retirement grooming his son, Nixon, to take the reins of the Times-Courier in the near future.
George’s dad was in the newspaper business in Augusta when he decided to shop around for a small paper to buy. His acquired the Times-Courier in 1967 with his future successor and son, George, nowhere to be found. Unbeknownst to his family, George was in Florida and dating a judge’s daughter, whose relations were no help when he got his draft notice from Uncle Sam. George swapped Palm Beach for a naval submarine off the coast of Spain.
Six years later, after his military service and some higher education, George was at the helm of the Times-Courier trading the classroom for the newsroom two semesters before graduation. That was 40 years ago. Now, he’s ready to find out what it’s like taking a full week’s vacation.
“I’m ready to play, but will miss being asked ‘what’s in the paper today’ by all the people I’ve come to know and love. It’s been a rewarding ride,” said George, who has achieved celebrity status for the indelible mark his life’s work has made on Ellijay and Gilmer County. “I’m blessed to have conquered CLL long enough to see a third generation Bunch boy keep the Times-Courier as the heartbeat of this community.”