Collins faced cancer with defiance, reliance

May 26, 2013 in Faith Matters by David Waters


Elizabeth Collins was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in 2004. A doctor told her she had six months to live.

Collins, an attorney, chose to appeal the ruling.

“I am confident that I can handle the chemo. Bring it on, baby, and kill those cancer cells,” she wrote on her CaringBridge journal in February 2010. “1 out of 3 get cured. I certainly hope to be one of the ‘winners.’ If not, at least I know that I gave it my all.”

Collins underwent a number of chemical and radiation treatments over the years at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. As the cancer spread to her bones and lungs, Collins, who was a star tennis player at Millsaps College, responded by competing in marathons and triathlons.

In 2010, she received a risky stem cell transplant. Three months later, she competed in a local triathlon. Her condition improved, declined, improved and declined again. She kept battling.

“I am still struggling with fear. It comes and goes, but I am working on facing it,” she wrote in April 2010. “A big part of me believes that God is in control, God loves me and whatever happens God will help me through it. On the other hand, I have large amounts of unbelief. It seems like it is a battle in my head between believing and being fearful. I think prayer is the only answer.”

Collins kept praying. She also kept working. In 2011, Collins, a partner with the firm Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell, received the Memphis Bar Association’s highest honor, the Judge Jerome Turner Lawyer’s Lawyer Award. She also was appointed to the Tennessee Judicial Nominating Commission.

Late last year, doctors told Collins that her cancer was no longer responding to treatment. In response, she walked the St. Jude Half-marathon with her friend, Claudia Haltom. She crossed the finish line in just under 4 hours.

On Dec. 19, doctors said the cancer had spread to her liver.

“Today I can just be grateful for the day,” she wrote the next day. “Life is good … lying on my couch, dogs on the floor beside me, eating ice cream and reading a mystery novel. Thanks for all your support and prayers.”

In January, Collins celebrated her 50th birthday with hundreds of friends at the University Club.

“Her closest friends knew that Elizabeth was in great pain that night,” close friend and colleague Bill Haltom wrote on his blog Friday. “But she got out on the dance floor and she sang and danced and laughed. And she triumphantly announced, ‘I have lived a half century!’ ”

A week later, doctors found cancer in her stomach. Collins endured five weeks of radiation therapy.

“Radiation doesn’t hurt and only takes 5 minutes,” Collins wrote March 3. “I will have it every morning at 7:45 a.m. on the way to work … most people stop for Starbucks on the way to work, I get to stop for radiation. I never did things normally!”

Collins went home for the final time in late April. “Going home on Tuesday! Whoo Hooo,” she wrote April 28. It was her final post.

Hospice arrived Wednesday. Collins had run out of appeals. She died Thursday morning.

“Beth is now playing guitar and singing in Heaven,” her friend Becky Adkins wrote Thursday on CaringBridge. Adkins, a nurse practitioner and friend since high school, accompanied Collins on most of her trips to Houston.

“I cannot begin to express how much your love and support has meant to Beth throughout these many years. I truly believe her community is what helped her outlive a diagnosis of 3-6 months almost 9 years ago. Thank you for all your encouragement and prayer every step along the way.”

Collins’ family and friends will remember her at a memorial service at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Idlewild Presbyterian Church.

“I’ve often wondered how it was that Elizabeth persevered so strongly through the years,” said Dr. Steve Montgomery, her pastor at Idlewild. “Elizabeth had a strong faith, and it was strong because it was a questioning faith, not content with glib or easy answers. And equally important, it was her friends.”