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Focus On Health:

Ball benefits cancer-afflicted teens

Cancer foundation hosts annual fundraising event, which last year honored a Mater Dei volleyball star who died of breast cancer.

October 10, 2007|By Sue Thoensen

Healthy, athletic 16-year-old girls aren’t supposed to die of breast cancer.

And in this day and age, we would hope that the first diagnosis won’t be the one that shows the disease has advanced to Stage IV, which means that it’s very advanced, and the survival rate is very low. Women today are so much more informed about the dangers and signs of breast cancer, due to constant reminders about the importance of self-exams and yearly mammograms.

But Andi Collins had inflammatory breast disease, and unfortunately, this rare form of cancer offers none of those easier, telltale symptoms.

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The Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation describes it as “a cancer cursed with misdiagnosis.” Many of the symptoms are overlooked or attributed to other causes.

The obvious, outward signs — rashes, a swollen breast, persistent itching of the breast and nipple, stabbing pain or soreness of the breast — have often been blamed on spider bites, ill-fitting bras, pregnancy or shingles.

In 2002, during Andi’s junior year when she was a star volleyball player at Mater Dei High School, she led her team to the state playoffs and a second championship, and then received word in December that she had cancer.

Suffering from what she believed to be a rib-cage pull all season, and fatiguing easily, doctors confirmed the diagnosis of inflammatory breast disease that had spread to her brain, liver and spine.

Andi Collins died in September 2003, after months of intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments at Hoag Hospital.

Lauren Collins, who took her sister to many of her treatment sessions, met Lil Spitzer, executive director of the Beckstrand Cancer Foundation after Andi’s death.

Collins was impressed with what the organization offered cancer patients and their families, and when she suggested forming a group of her peers to reach out to teenage cancer patients, Spitzer was ready and willing to help.

Dr. Grant Beckstrand, a well-known oncologist, founded The Beckstrand Cancer Foundation in Newport Beach in 1974. Lauren Collins and two of her best friends from high school, sisters Veronica and Stephanie Muth, established The Four Pearls — an auxiliary branch of the Beckstrand Cancer Foundation — in 2006.

The girls will remember what they went through with Andi, and have a vision, Collins said.

“We are the beginning of Four Pearls — three here one in heaven.”

Their goal was to focus on teens living with cancer.

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