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Cancer Silences a Short, Active Life

September 05, 2003|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

Andi Collins refused to let breast cancer control her short life. After her diagnosis in December, the 16-year-old continued to study hard and play volleyball. She even got a puppy.

At Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, her volleyball uniform hangs in her locker. Andi's parents bought her a ticket to Saturday's USC football game, when her brother Will, a freshman on the team, is expected to suit up for the first time.

"She always said cancer was not going to stop her from doing the things she wanted to do," said Andi's best friend, Mater Dei senior Kerry O'Dorisio. "She never let it change her life or who she was."

Andrea Elizabeth Collins died Thursday morning in her Laguna Beach home.

Andi was diagnosed with breast cancer a week before Christmas, after helping lead her school's girls' volleyball team in the state playoffs.

The first month was hard, but by February she was working out with weights, said her father, John Collins. A month later, wearing a wig to mask the effects of chemotherapy, she was playing club volleyball. Working from home, she also maintained almost-perfect grades in Advanced Placement courses.

A cousin bought Andi a "prayer pager" for people to call to let her know they were thinking about her. The pager was going off so much she finally had to turn it off, Andi's father said.

Andi kept her family going even when they wanted to give up, he said. She never complained, even when she was scared.

"With every bit of bad news, she never admitted defeat," her father said.

"Whenever we got a good report, she'd always say, 'I told you so.' "

Andi's death devastated the Mater Dei community, but school Principal Pat Murphy said he is sure her courage will continue to inspire other students and staff. After the announcement was made Thursday, students crowded the school's chapel and grotto to pray for the girl.

"Nobody expects a 16-year-old to pass away," Murphy said. "It's not supposed to happen that way."

Breast cancer in patients younger than 21 is extremely rare, representing less than 1% of the roughly 15,000 patients that age who are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States, said Dr. Leonard S. Sender, chief of oncology and medical director of the Children's Hospital of Orange County Cancer Institute.

Andi is survived by parents John J. and Patricia Collins; sisters Lauren Patricia Collins, Cynthia Anne Lilly and Pamela Marie Birmingham; and brothers William, James, Robert and John Jr.

Services will be held 11 a.m. Monday at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, at 2046 Mar Vista Drive in Newport Beach. In lieu of flowers, Andi's family asks contributions be made to the Mater Dei Campus Ministry.

In the end, Andi's strong fight gave her peace.

"She knew that she fought this," Kerry said. "She hadn't let herself down, but she also understood it wasn't in her hands anymore."

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