Mike Collins was the oldest sibling in our family. He was the big brother that we all loved, adored and respected. There were four of us, raised by loving parents who made sure we had a great upbringing. We are a very close family that values time we get to spend with one another. Although Mike lived in Maine and the rest of us live in Florida, he made sure to visit us annually, bringing along his adult children. During his visits, he insisted on the whole family getting together. As the big brother, he felt responsible for maintaining our strong family bond.
Mike was the sort of person who would take care of everyone else before he took care of himself. He always seemed to have time and money to give to others, whether it was employees, friends or family. He lived a very modest life and he needed very little for himself. His life was simple and he was a happy and content soul with a big heart. He owned a very successful business, building beautiful homes on the coast of Maine. My father always said Mike was a true artist, and that he was. His work was astounding.
When Mike called me one day in 2007 and told me he noticed a spot on the roof of his mouth and he was seeing an oral surgeon so it could be biopsied, I was sure it was nothing to be concerned about. Then he told me that the spot had been there for a while, but his dentist told him that it would likely go away within a couple of weeks. He gave Mike a prescription for an antibiotic and sent him on his way. No recheck and no warning about how serious this “spot” could be. After I learned these details, I became concerned but remained optimistic and hopeful that he would be fine. Then I received the next call from Mike, he did, indeed, have oral cancer. It can’t be!
My biggest hope was that this was caught early and would be very treatable. It wasn’t though. Mike’s oral cancer was very progressed and he required extensive, disfiguring surgery. He had to have half of the roof of his mouth removed, along with most of his upper teeth. The surgery was grueling, and the radiation and chemo was debilitating. My sister, Christie, my brother, Steve and I flew up to Boston to be there with Mike during his surgery and stay at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. None of us had any idea what surgery and radiation would do to Mike. Unless you go through this with someone, you have no idea. His quality of life changed on a dime. It was heartbreaking to watch this loving and gentle man endure this.
One of the saddest things about Mike’s story is that it didn’t have to have this sad ending. If he was diagnosed and treated earlier, the outcome would have been very different. Mike survived almost five years from his diagnosis date, but those years were not quality years. He never felt sorry for himself and even during his last months, he was most concerned about those he would be leaving behind.
Mike would want his complete story shared with hope that lives would be saved. He truly cared more about others, than about himself. He would be extremely pleased to know that Oral Cancer Cause saved others from suffering as he did.