‘One minute at a time’

Battling cancer for the third time, Gretchen Colwell doesn’t know how long she has to live.

It could be months, or she could beat the disease once again and enjoy many more years, she said.

Whichever way it goes, she plans to use her time to surround herself with the things she holds most dear — God and prayer, family and friends, and singing.

Although she lives in Austin with her husband, Dwain Colwell, the two are well known in Jackson County. Throughout the years, they have visited several area churches, where they have performed together as The Colwells, sharing their faith and singing hymns and gospel music.

The couple have sung together throughout their 41-year marriage.

They have made many friends during their church visits, including Mary Muster and Susie Freeman, both of whom live in Seymour and attend Hilltop Pentecostal Church in Brownstown.

Muster and Freeman have organized a benefit concert for the Colwells at 5 p.m. Saturday at Seymour Harvest Church, 414 N. Chestnut St. in Seymour. The concert will feature the young gospel group Redemption Cross, Muster’s daughter and son-in-law, Teresa and Mike Biller, Greg Roberts and other local talent. Gretchen Colwell said she plans to sing with her husband if she is felling well enough.

There will be an auction in the church basement after the concert. Items up for bid include baked goods, donated items and gift certificates from local merchants. Refreshments, including sloppy joes and coney dogs, will be available

Proceeds will help pay to build the Colwells a new home. The couple have always rented, but because of her medical bills they no longer can afford the payments, Gretchen Colwell said.

Land for the home was donated by Gary and Mary Hardgrove of Austin. Gary Hardgrove plays bass for the Colwells when they perform.

Gretchen Colwell, 58, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989 when she was 32. There was no history of cancer in her family, so she was surprised and devastated by the diagnosis.

“I found it myself actually,” she said.

She did a breast self-exam after seeing it talked about on TV and discovered a knot. At first she thought that, because the lump was small, doctors would be able to remove it and she would be OK.

“But it was too late,” she said. “When the doctor said it was cancer, I was terrified. Hearing the ‘C’ word is really scary. It’s a bad word.”

After going through radiation and having both of her breasts removed, Colwell thought her nightmare was over. And for a while, it was. The cancer was gone.

But in 2002, doctors discovered Colwell had cancer again, this time in her lung.

“It felt like I was getting pneumonia or something,” she said. “I couldn’t lean back in a lounge chair. My back started hurting real bad, and I thought, ‘Man, I’m getting a cold back there or something.’ It just didn’t feel right.”

Colwell said that doctors told her the cancer was never really gone, it had been dormant.

Now, the cancer, which is classified as non-small-cell carcinoma, is in her liver, her lungs and her bones, she said. She just began chemotherapy treatment again two weeks ago. “It’s getting to be aggressive, so I have to do it every week,” she said.

The treatments can be difficult and often leave her sick and in pain. She’s lost her hair six times, but she knows she has to keep fighting.

“You’ve just got to go one day and one minute at a time,” she said.

At one point, Colwell said, a lot of people thought she was going to die. “I got to see people I hadn’t seen in years, who were concerned and coming to see us and show us love,” she said.

Her strength comes from her strong faith in God, she said, and in the fact she’s not ready to give up.

“I couldn’t do it without the Lord,” she said. “He’s been so good to me. I try to be strong and stay strong as much as I can. When you’re sick and in bed and can’t hardly do anything, it gets discouraging. But you just have to stay strong and know that God will bring you through it.”

Through prayer and singing, Colwell said, she is comforted and finds the strength to continue fighting the battle so that she can continue to be with her loved ones and serve God. She and her husband have two children, Crystal and Chris Colwell.

“You want to be with your family. You want to be here and do more things for God. You want to be a blessing to others,” she said. “You don’t want to leave your grandkids, your kids, your friends, everybody. It’s like the old saying goes, everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

Those words were made famous in a Loretta Lynn song in 1965, but Colwell said they remain true today.

She said God still has a plan for her and that’s why she’s still here and continues to sing.

“I keep saying, ‘Lord you’re not done with me yet,’” she said.

She hopes her story and her continued performances bring comfort and hope to others.

“If I can help anyone who’s got cancer I will,” she said.

If you go

What: Benefit gospel concert and auction for Dwain and Gretchen Colwell

Where: Seymour Harvest Church, 414 N. Chestnut St., Seymour

When: 5 p.m. Saturday

For information: Contact Mary Muster at 812-522-6260 or Susie Freeman at 812-216-4848.

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.