Spotlight: Jeff Collins and the St. Joseph Academy Tennis Team
In November 2009, Jeff Collins, then a UW-Madison freshman, was playing soccer when he felt his left quadriceps tighten up. He thought it was just a pulled muscle, so he took a few weeks off to recuperate.
However, as time went on, the muscle began to harden. Knowing this feeling was not normal, Jeff went to UW Health Services. He was then referred to UW Hospital and Clinics for an MRI and an appointment with a surgeon. When Jeff arrived for his appointment in December, he met with orthopedic oncologist, John Heiner, MD, who diagnosed him with soft tissue sarcoma.
A Rare Disease: Sarcoma
An estimated 10,520 people were diagnosed with sarcoma in the United States in 2010. Sarcoma is a cancer that arises from the supportive structures of the body, such as muscle, fat, cartilage, and bone. There are 70 different varieties of sarcoma.
Because sarcoma is so rare, national guidelines recommend that it is treated by a multidisciplinary team of sarcoma physicians. Heiner performed the surgery, while Kevin Kozak, MD, PhD, directed radiation treatments. Meanwhile, a third doctor, Steven Attia, DO, was in charge of chemotherapy. After six months of treatment and many obstacles along the way, Jeff is now in remission.
The Support of Friends, Family and a High School Tennis Team
Jeff never lost faith in recovery. Knowing he was not alone, it was the support of friends and family that helped Jeff pull through.
"In my mind," he states, "I knew I had no choice, so it just felt like it was something I had to endure."
Jeff's family and friends rallied behind him. His brother Pete and long-time friend Chris McKeon, both members of the St. Joseph Academy High School tennis team in Kenosha, Wisconsin, rallied the team to show their support and join the fight against cancer.
In May 2010, the team shaved their heads to outwardly demonstrate empathy towards Jeff and other cancer patients and raise money for sarcoma research. Through their efforts, they raised almost $3,600 for Drs. Attia, Kozak, and Heiner to continue conducting groundbreaking sarcoma research at the UW Carbone Cancer Center.
Throughout Jeff's diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, what he wanted the most was for life to get back to normal. In fact, Jeff's biggest fear during treatment was that he would miss the start of the fall semester at UW. Jeff's aunt, Ellen Richter, said it best. "He just wanted to be a Badger."
Now starting a new semester at UW, Jeff is that and a whole lot more.