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No longer taking things for granted

My Summa, My Story: Chuck Collins

Chuck Collins

Ed. Note: Chuck Collins, operations director for the Rubber City Radio Group (Akron, Ohio), is a testament to the collaborative care provided by the nationally recognized cancer specialists at Summs’s Cooper Cancer Center. Diagnosed with a brain tumor, Mr. Collins shares his journey from diagnosis to treatment.

When I was growing up, my dad used to say to me, “You think you’re Iron Man, but you’re not.” But I lived that way. I took some risks that I probably shouldn’t have. I took many things for granted -- I took my life for granted and the lives of the people I care about.

But when you start to feel odd things happen to you and there’s no rhyme or reason why, that’s when you really wake up. My biggest health fear was having a stroke. When the first event happened in March 2013, that was my first thought.

I was in a studio right around the corner from my office. I knew all the danger signs of stroke: closing one eye; making sure I can see out of both eyes; was my speech slurred; and was one side weaker than the other.

The odd thing is, one side was just different. It wasn’t weak. It wasn’t totally numb, but there was some numbness and a tingling. I wasn’t sure what it was.

The next time it happened, I was at an event. It was at the end of a long evening. I thought maybe I was dehydrated because I generally don’t eat at those events. A friend of mine was there and asked if I was okay. I sat down for a minute, drank some water and I was fine to finish the night.

Anyone else would go to the emergency room right away. I didn’t do that. I was too stubborn. When I spoke with a friend of mine who is a doctor, I explained the symptoms to him. He checked my blood pressure and found I was hypertensive. Really hypertensive.

But the symptoms continued even after controlling the hypertension. I didn’t know what it was, but it had to be looked at.

I went to the emergency room at Summa and the healthcare professionals did a CT scan. They saw that I had what was called a suspicious area… a suspicious shadow on that CT scan.

They weren’t sure what it was. It was on the right side of my brain -- in the general area of the temporal or parietal lobe. They were concerned enough to order an MRI. That’s when they determined that it was, in fact, a brain tumor.

Until that point, brain tumors were always punch lines to jokes for me. In fact, before I left for the emergency room, I said to my two program directors, “Just don’t tell me I have a brain tumor.” That statement became very prophetic because that’s exactly what I had.

I started trying to make this bad situation as good as I could. I wanted to make sure I maintained cognitive function. The way I did that was by remembering every person’s name that I met at Summa. It was easy to do because they were all so great. And that was my therapy through the surgery, which went well.

The next step was oncology. I learned the tumor was malignant when I saw the oncology team come in. They were very careful to explain that we have to be ready. They told me, “There are a lot of procedures that need to be lined up and rather than wait until we get a definitive response, we want to be ready and have it in place for you so you get the best treatment right away.”

I met with a radiation oncologist who laid it all out and dispelled some of the myths about radiation chemotherapy. They would keep very close track -- I would see him every week and I would see the oncologist every couple of weeks.

In many respects, my life has changed -- not just because of the brain tumor and being able to wear a hat whenever I want to -- but because of the strength and dedication of the people who work to fight cancer.

It’s treatments and innovations like those that I’ve been exposed to through Summa, that are going to make a world of difference. It’s already made a world of difference in my life. So, I’m grateful…really  grateful.

One thing I’ve learned -- cancer touches everybody. You can feel helpless, but you should never feel hopeless. You have to be able to continue to draw from your own personal strength, to continue to fight the fight and the professionals will continue to do what they need to do to be prepared for what’s next and help us get through this and survive.

Find out more about the Summa Cancer Institute