Colon Cancer Relapse Survivor: ‘Life is Good’

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Going through chemotherapy and radiation can leave you feeling like a shell of who you were before the cancer diagnosis. But, once the “chemo brain” and neuropathy clear, and screens for new masses come up negative, you might feel better than you have in years.

Dawn Astin, business administrator for the American Rescue Workers, was diagnosed with colon cancer less than a week after her 50th birthday.

“Our jaws dropped,” Astin said. “I just started to cry.”

Astin said she and her husband, Sam Astin, went home after getting the news and immediately called their family together. Their parents and children came over and had group prayer.

“We gave it to God that night,” she said.

In February of 2011, Astin had surgery to remove 18 inches of her colon and 19 lymph nodes, nine of which were cancerous. She started chemotherapy in April.

Throughout her treatment, Astin was on steroids, which made her gain weight. The treatment itself was grueling and often made her feel groggy.

“The fatigue is overwhelming. You push yourself to get out of bed. You push yourself to brush your teeth,” she said.

Everything tasted like metal, and staying hydrated was a struggle, she added. Astin said she only enjoyed the taste of sweets, and otherwise could barely eat.

“By the end of that, I hardly knew who I was. It would make you feel like it was dropping you right at death’s door,” Astin said. “You couldn’t go in, but you couldn’t turn back either.”

Astin said she struggled with a symptom called “chemo brain,” which is an umbrella term for effects a patient might deal with while going through chemo. She said her memory was especially bad.

“I was in a fog all the time. I couldn’t think of names, couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t remember … I didn’t feel like talking,” Astin said. “This is real! This isn’t just something that people make up to complain about. I wondered if I’d ever be myself again.”

Through it all, Astin continued to work and go to church. She said help from friends, family and kind strangers pushed her through treatment.

“There was such an outpouring of love, it was amazing,” she said.

After finishing chemo in November later that year, Astin thought she had beaten the cancer.

She and her husband were planning a trip to Arizona to see their grandchildren and wait for the newest grandbaby to arrive. When Astin started feeling sick and so bloated that she needed to go up several pant sizes in a short amount of time, she consulted her doctor, who found an ovarian cyst.

She was told she should be alright, and should take and enjoy her trip.

But the cyst doubled in size while she was gone.

She had to have a full hysterectomy, or removal of her uterus, and her appendix was removed as well. Because of the surgery, doctors found more colon cancer and urged Astin to go through another six months of chemo.

“I said, ‘No. No way,’ “ she recalled. “But I went to Johns Hopkins for a second opinion, and they recommended the same thing.”

Astin went through with it and found it wasn’t as “taxing” as the first time around. She held fast to her faith.

“I was ready to live, but I also was ready to die,” she said. “I left that in God’s hands, and I do that every day.”

After chemo, Astin started a maintenance plan which helped to hold cancer cells at bay and keep them from growing and spreading.

“I have never felt better than I do now. I feel like I’m back,” Astin said. “I can eat hot peppers again! I can brush my teeth with adult toothpaste! I can play the piano and I’m singing again.”

“Everything was so green this spring. I’d forgotten how green the grass and the trees could be, how blue the sky is,” she said. “Life is good.”