Local wife and mother of three, Collye Collins was in the middle of her star running back son’s football season as well as all the excitement that comes with becoming a new grandmother in 2018—when all of a sudden—cancer struck. For Collye, there were no symptoms, no tiredness, no pain, and just by chance, she happened to get a mammogram only a few weeks after the extremely aggressive form of cancer began to grow. Collins shares her amazing story of how with God’s help and hope, she beat it, and received wonderful news just a couple weeks ago.
“I have no family history of cancer, no risk factors, and you know, you just think ‘I’m healthy—I’m never going to get cancer,’” Collins relates.
“I had not done a mammogram in three years, and I had missed my appointment for a mammogram this past July too, so it was rescheduled for September. When I found out I had cancer, I was beating myself up about missing the appointment in July, and my doctor told me ‘You didn’t have this cancer 6 months or a year ago.’ He said this cancer is so fast growing and aggressive that it probably wouldn’t have showed up in July. They think it had just started–maybe a month or so before I went in for my mammogram in September. If I had had that mammogram a couple months earlier in July, it wouldn’t have been detected, and I probably wouldn’t be here.”
After two positive mamograms, she was diagnosed with HER2 triple positive invasive breast cancer this past September.
“It was Stage 2 with a Tumor Grade 3 (the most aggressive rating for tumor grade),” Collins said. “In the world of Breast Cancer, hearing the acronym HER2+ is not a good thing. It’s a very aggressive cancer with high reoccurrence rate and significant increased chances of becoming metastatic cancer most likely spreading to the brain.”
The small window of time during which the cancer became so advanced and the fact that she never had any symptoms still amazes her.
“Even when I knew where the tumors were, I still couldn’t feel them. They were not detectable by a physical exam. I didn’t feel them and my doctor didn’t either. When it comes to mammograms, all I can say is—do it, do it, do it—it definitely saves lives. It saved mine.”
Collins underwent 18 weeks of chemo before having bilateral mastectomies on March 6. It wasn’t until she beat the cancer, that her doctor explained what great odds she overcame.
“Last week I got the amazing news that my lymph nodes were negative…Praise God! Yesterday my oncologist explained just how amazing that was, even more incredible than I had realized. Fewer than 30% will have no residual disease in their lymph nodes after chemo, and I was in this small statistic.”
Her gynecologist was the first to break the news to her that scary September day.
“It’s what she wasn’t saying and the overly sympathetic tone in her voice that frightened me the most,” Collins said.
But her meeting with oncologist, Dr. Sharon Wilks, was a turning point.
“I have no doubt that God placed me in exactly the right hands! My first meeting with Dr. Sharon Wilks had me believing that God and my team of doctors would beat this. Her first words were “God is your healer and He has only blessed me with the knowledge to help you, but God will do this for you!”
“She prayed for me and began to explain my kind of cancer and discussed the treatment plan with me. I was so scared before the appointment but left with an overwhelming sense of peace that they knew how to kill this cancer!”
“My doctor said that 6-7 years ago, my prognosis would have been really bad, but here have been incredible advancements with two new immunotherapy drugs, Herceptin and Perjeta, that have been total game changers for HER2+ breast cancer….My pathology report was very frightening, very scary, but when I met with my oncologist she had “cure” written as the treatment objective and prognosis was “good” as long as “my lymph nodes were ok.”
“The problem with that is the only way to biopsy the lymph nodes is by removal which occurs during the mastectomy…..so I had to wait from September 17th until last Thursday, March 6 to truly know about my lymph nodes,” Collins adds.
It was a long, hard wait until doctors could remove and test the lymph nodes.
“Most breast cancer has surgery up front and then chemo, so those answers concerning the spread to lymph nodes come quickly… But with HER2 positive cancer, they have to stop it from spreading and must do chemo first.”
It spreads so quickly that they don’t want to delay chemo and risk cancer cells spreading into the body, Collins said.
The fact that Collins lymph nodes were clear this March is “bigger than big” as her oncologist explained.
“Often with HER2, cancer appears elsewhere in the body within 2-5 years…that is called metastatic cancer, but she said that my future chances of reoccurrence elsewhere in my body are at tremendously lower odds now.”
“I knew God would heal me this go round and I fought to not fear the future. I know my life is in His hands and now, and medically speaking, I also have so much more hope that I have overcome some horrible statistics.”
Collins wears a bracelet with a quote from Mark 9:23, “All things are possible to him who believes.”
“I haven’t taken it off since my diagnosis,” Collins says. “I will continue to wear it as a reminder for what my precious Lord has done for me. It’s not very attractive or stylish but the truth in God’s words carried me through!
Collins said the amount of community support was amazing.
“My family, my friends, and the community….I had such overwhelming support. It was mind blowing to me, the amount of people who reached out to me. I had no idea how many people’s lives I’ve impacted, and it just meant so much. Even if I didn’t know them very well, it meant a lot. A lot of them would say ‘There’s no need to reply, but I’m thinking about you and I’m praying for you.’ It just made me feel like I had a whole army on my side,” Collins said. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who is struggling, and always validate what they are going through. Listen to them, cry with them, and then you can cheer them on, but first, validate what they are going through.”
One of those touching moments was when the Warhorses presented Collins with flowers and balloons during a pep rally at Devine High School last year.
“It was so sweet, so touching,” Collins said. “All of those boys on Grant’s team are like my boys.”
A life-changing experience, it has brought Collins and her family closer to God and that’s what she hopes sharing her story will do for others.
“He showed himself to me every step of the way with little nudges letting me know that he was fighting for me,” Collins said.
“I am a type A personality,” Collins adds with a laugh. “I like to do everything for myself. I have always been a believer, but this experience has helped me learn to rely on the Lord more because He is the one in control. Just giving it over to Him and trusting Him….We have all lost people to cancer. He does call some of us home, and we are all human so we all start to question it, but we just have to try not to dwell on the why’s. That can’t be our focus.”
“For people who have been watching my story, I really hope it points them to the Lord. That is my hope and my prayer. People tell me all the time that I am so positive and strong, but I hope people know that I didn’t muster up this strength myself. It’s God’s strength in me that helped me get through this. People will tell me ‘You’re a rock star’, and I’m like, ‘God’s the rock star…I’m just in his band.”
“When fear rose up, I read scripture. When they did the MRI on my lymph nodes, it was one of the most frightening times because I had already read about what happens when it spreads to your lymph nodes and I was praying it hadn’t. I remember just laying there and repeating one of my favorite scriptures over and over in my head, and it helped me get through it.”
Losing hair can be one of the toughest parts of chemo, and Collins is no stranger to its stress.
“You lose your hair and your eyelashes…. and I am battling with this too, but don’t be so afraid to be bald. We live in a society that is very focused on outward appearance, but I feel that if we can learn to embrace the beauty that is within—it’s kind of like a freedom you get when you go bald.”
With chemotherapy and the mastectomy behind her, she has more time to enjoy her wonderful family, including her husband Dallas, children Sydney, Kassidy, and Grant, and she especially loves snuggling up with one little man named Merrick who stole her heart completely (her first grandson).
“I don’t have time to be sick,” Collins said. “I watch my grandson! Without a doubt grandbabies keep you going!”
By Kayleen Holder