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.