A family of miracles
Dawn Overstreet is more prepared than most to weather life’s many twists and turns. After all, she navigated her way from rural Northern Idaho to Boston and finally to Chicago, where she worked in higher education administration for almost 20 years.
For all she accomplished, though, Dawn was ready for another big change: to start a family of her own without a partner. Through the help of in vitro fertilization, she eventually became pregnant with twins, Joshua and Sophia.
“My entire life, I had envisioned getting married and then having children. Now I’m living a different dream,” Dawn says. “As it often goes in life, what seems like a negative often leads to something more beautiful than you ever could have imagined.”
Then came two bombshells. The first came in November 2016, when Dawn delivered her twins just 24 weeks into her pregnancy, swiftly sending Joshua and Sophia to the neonatal intensive care unit. Dawn spent every day of the next six months in the NICU, anxiously watching her babies teeter and thankfully come back from the brink of death.
Both twins were finally home in May 2017. Dawn was blissfully enjoying the first few months of motherhood with her babies at home, when the second bombshell came.
“I was having irritable bowels and blood in my stool, and I knew right away it wasn’t normal. I went to see my OB/GYN, thinking these symptoms were from giving birth,” Dawn recalls.
She was referred to the care of Dr. Jan P. Kamiński, a colon and rectal surgeon at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, who performed a colonoscopy and found nine polyps and a 2-inch cancerous rectal mass that is suspected to have grown in her colon for almost 10 years. Dr. Kamiński soon after diagnosed her with advanced rectal cancer.
“At Advocate Illinois Masonic, we have a dedicated tumor board where cancer specialists specifically discuss patients with rectal cancer. This approach ensures that every aspect of a patient’s case is carefully considered before determining the best treatment plan,” says Dr. Kamiński. “Given Dawn’s locally advanced rectal cancer, my colleagues, Dr. Mebea Aklilu and Dr. James Ruffer, and I worked together to come up with an integrated treatment plan involving surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which would give Dawn the best chance to beat the cancer.”
Dawn completed her treatment in late June and is now focused on enjoying life with Joshua and Sophia, who will turn 2 years old in November.
“Dawn will have to be carefully monitored for the next five years, during which time we’ll closely watch for any recurrence of cancer,” Dr. Kamiński says. “We strongly encourage screening colonoscopies, which can prevent colorectal cancer. All patients should have one at age 45, but many patients may need one sooner depending on family history, personal history or symptoms.”
“While raising twins as a single mom, undergoing cancer treatment certainly creates a logistical effort; my children are my inspiration and motivation for living. If they can fight and survive what they’ve been through, then I can fight this cancer,” Dawn says.
“Now that I’m done with treatment, I feel fantastic, and I’m excited to have my life back,” says Dawn, who just finished writing a children’s book for non-traditional families and single mothers. She is now working on a memoir about her journey through raising twin babies while fighting cancer.
Dawn also feels overwhelming gratitude for the family, friends, colleagues and her parish community who rallied to help with the twins throughout her treatment and the team of nurses and doctors that helped her beat cancer.
“A village of people got me through this,” she says. “My message for anyone who is struggling is to turn to one another. We can’t get anywhere in life, especially in times of suffering and great need, without astonishing acts of generosity, love and hope we provide one another.”
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About the Author
Jaimie Oh, health enews contributor, is the manager of public affairs and marketing at Illinois Masonic in Chicago. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has nearly a decade of experience working in publishing, strategic communications and marketing. Outside of work, Jaimie trains for marathons with the goal of running 50 races before she turns 50 years old.