Austin’s Story

Austin walking back from class at GMC

So we had to do this project for a class on freshmen and we were not sure who to do this on. I remember Austin Cole and thought he had a pretty decent story to share about his childhood.

I knew Austin’s family before he was even born and I remember seeing pictures of his mother holding me as a baby when she was a teenager. I grew up playing at her house since our families got along so well.

I think Austin’s story is important, not only because I am close to his family, but because he had cancer when he was a kid and the doctor thought he would never make it to college. He was even told he might have brain damage due to having a tumor in his brain. Today Austin is a normal 19 year old college student.

Austin as a baby

The sound of voices and laughter filled the atrium, echoing off the high ceilings and linoleum of the dining area. Austin Cole zipped up his backpack and slung it over his shoulder before retreating to the door. Once outside, he walked with confidence toward the large building looming ahead, just past the flagpole. It is just another day at Georgia Military College.

Georgia Military College is filled with a rich military history and has a well-maintained campus. I’m glad Austin chose GMC as his pick for getting a start on college. I think he will get a good education. He was a little nervous about starting college, but it grew on him.

“When I first walked in I was both nervous and excited. I was starting a new school. I was taking the first step into getting a degree in science and I was nervous, because I was at a new school, and I didn’t know my way around. But it was pretty easy to adjust after all that nervousness died down,” he said.

Austin at GMC working on his laptop

Austin is just an average freshman college student going through routines: attending classes, completing assignments and projects and hanging out with friends while pursuing a major in pre-nursing. He is happy and enjoys the college experience. He adapted well to this new experience after graduating from high school, and he works hard to get good grades. What many do not know is that his childhood was not as ordinary as his college life is now, but it is remembered only through pictures and videos as well as stories told to him as he grew.

Austin’s mom, Tonya Cole, is very proud of Austin for getting into college.

“I was very happy and very proud of him. Everything he had been through and he was excited about it, and just to see him happy, made me happy. With him being right next door to me as well, as work right next door to GMC, so that way I could make sure he was alright,” she said.

Austin was born on Oct. 13, 1997. He was a happy baby to Tonya and Joey cole. He was born right here in Baldwin County, living a normal life as a toddler. Everything seemed normal until he was just about to turn five.

Austin as a happy baby

When Austin was four years old, he was diagnosed with cancer in the form of a brain tumor. While he could not possibly fathom what was happening to him at such a young age, the news was life altering and truly devastating for his parents. A cancer diagnosis is the last thing a parent wants to be told about their child.

Treatment lasted a year before Austin went into remission. He received his treatment from St. Jude’s Hospital and spent some time at the Ronald McDonald House in Memphis, Tennessee.

Austin is just like any other college student now and doesn’t let much bother him, even though his appearance has been altered due to the brain cancer. His hair never fully grew back, the sunlight hurts his eyes and he had problems with his growth. He doesn’t let these things get to him.

Austin at GMC packing up his backpack

“From the videos and photographs that I’ve seen it seems that it hadn’t registered in my mind that I actually had a devastating disease. I looked happy from the pictures. To meet Jim Carrey and everything like that, it just feels like St. Jude makes you want to feel at home,” he said.

Like many children who fight cancer, Austin got special treatment from society. He had the opportunity to meet Jim Carrey while he was going through treatment.

“Jim Carrey had cancelled a meeting with his friends and colleagues to come to St. Jude to visit with the patients there that were actually going through chemotherapy at the time. He gave up his busy schedule to come and be with the kids,” he said.

Austin with Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey is famous for his comedy movies and not as popular as he used to be. The films I remember him most for are “the Mask” and “Dumb & Dumber.” He has a very expressive face and his actions in his films are silly. Just because he isn’t cast in films like he used to be doesn’t mean his actions at St. Jude are any less reputable, but now back to Austin’s story.

News also came that if the tumor had been in another area of the brain, the result would have been severe brain damage. While there was relief that brain damage did not occur the thought of what could have been is still terrifying, but not for Austin. He’s healthy, happy and enjoying life and that is all he dwells on.

“If the tumor had been in another part of the brain I could have had brain damage and maybe even spinal damage, and problems with memory, and mobility. It just makes me relieved and thankful that it was not that severe,” he said.

There are many things Austin does not remember about his childhood, including his cancer treatment. Knowing the facts and the stories shared with him have not affected his present life. He is blessed to be in college, continuing his education. When asked about his cancer, he just shrugs it off and goes about his day.

Austin with his doctor

He knows full well he looks different from his peers, but it makes no difference to him. He’s just really a happy guy, but I don’t remember that being the case when I saw him many years ago.

I remember visiting Austin at St. Jude in Memphis, Tennessee. He looked frail and tired at the time. It’s not something easy to witness, but I’m glad he shrugs it off so easily now.

Austin is perusing a career in nursing at GMC right now. The fact that he wants to do something in the medical field is pretty amazing. Most people that have been poked and prodded with a needle probably want to stay as far away from them as they can, but not Austin.

“After the first quarter I’m excited about doing course work, because it’s really interesting to learn about the body and everything that goes into it. And I just can’t wait to get my degree.”

Austin’s mom was scared when he was diagnosed with cancer. The ordeal was very scary for her and she chose to put her faith in God.

“Well, I just prayed that he’d be alright and it’s just one of the worst things a parent can ever hear is your child has cancer. I knew through God we could get through it, but it was scary and I hope they can find a cure for it, so no parents will have to hear those words again,” she said.

Austin recovering with his cat

Austin has lots of support from his family. He is just happy to start college and get started working towards becoming a nurse. He said he did really well his first quarter at GMC and can’t wait to keep going to school.

“Everything is fine now. I’m doing everything by myself. I graduated high school, which the doctors said I wouldn’t be able to do and I’m in college, second quarter and working towards my associate’s degree,” he said.

Georgia Military College
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