Two things shocked Frances Collins on June 4, 2017: she was diagnosed with metastatic triple negative breast cancer at age 45, and it had quickly spread to her lymph nodes and bones.

Something else shocked the McPherson native, but she wasn’t surprised — her friends living hundreds of miles away wanted to help.

“I have really close friends who are always willing to help out, but it was still a shock to me. After all these years being gone, there’s still so many people I feel connected to in McPherson who still want to help out and support me in every step of this journey,” Collins said.

A benefit event is planned for 6 p.m. to midnight on May 12 at the McPherson American Legion, which will include a dinner, live music by Artifact, a raffle and a silent auction. Proceeds from the event will go toward the cost of medical bills, Collins’ insurance deductible, transportation and prescriptions.

“We’ve been best friends since I moved here in seventh grade. She was my maid of honor, she’s like a sister to me. She’s an amazing person and she’s been through a lot herself,” said Melissa Leathers, one of the organizers of the event. “Medical bills are piling up and fast. We don’t want them to have to worry about losing the house or a car.”

The event is coordinated by Leathers, Anne Carson, Shari Weisbeck, Shannan Parsons, Sherri Miller and Tina Western.

To donate items to the silent auction, raffle or to make other donations for the event, contact Melissa Leathers at 620-245-8297 or Anne Carson at 620-755-7637. Donations may also be mailed to P.O. Box 652, McPherson KS 67460. For updates about the event, visit the “Friends for Fran” page on Facebook.

Collins now lives in Rifle, Colorado with her husband C. Trace, also of McPherson, and their two children Tahse and Billy. Her and her husband’s parents Billy and Barbara Tieyah and Martin and Mary Collins still live in McPherson.

“When you live in such a small town you have life-long friends. They wanted to do something for me so they reached out to the American Legion. I’ll be home for May Day. My son is 7 years old and I’ve wanted to show him what May Day is and experience McPherson. They knew I was coming back for that so they decided to help me with my expenses at the same time,” Collins said. “It feels like every time we’re going thought a difficult time, that hometown community has reached out and helped us. It’s a great family hometown, and I want my son to experience and share that with them.”

Collins was first diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

“At 40, my OB/GYN recommended that I start mammograms, and I actually said ‘I heard they hurt and I don’t want to do it.’ They said I could probably wait until I turn 50, but that’s not their recommendation, so I made my own call and decided to wait for the mammogram,” Collins explained. “At the time, I thought ‘how could this happen? I’m only 45,’” Collins said.

Collins later found a lump, which her doctors diagnosed as stage four mTNBC. Collins’ diagnosis was a lot to take in, not only because of her young age, but because Collins’ daughter was affected by a medulloblastoma brain tumor 14 years ago.

“This really caught me off guard. Not too many families have cancer twice in their immediate family. I thought we had our fair share. We’ve had some medical issues, my husband was in a motorcycle accident, nothing more can happen,” Collins said. “Looking back now, I should have done things differently. I should have been an advocate for myself. With my daughter having cancer, my husband being in a motorcycle accident, I’ve been a caregiver for many many years. As the caregiver, you sometimes don’t take care of yourself as you should. I should have done the mammogram, the monthly self-exams.”

There is no cure for this form of breast cancer, but it can be treated.

Collins is currently undergoing her third, first-line chemotherapy treatments and has completed three rounds of radiation therapy.

“I’m the only provider for my household, I like working, but I took a four month leave of absence. It’s hard. I like going to work so not getting up and doing that normal routine is a huge change. Going from the caregiver to the patient is a huge change. Depending on other people for help and assistance is hard.”

Collins is looking forward to the benefit event in McPherson, not only to reconnect with familiar faces, but also to simply make more positive memories.

“Life is short, and my quotes right now are ‘making memories’ and ‘be kind to one another’ because you never know what people are going through. Those are my goals and what I strive for — be kind and make as many memories as I can the rest of my life here,” Collins said.

“People should really enjoy family and make as many memories as possible. This family has had a lot happen to us so I want to remind folks that even those little memories, a lunch at the park, those are beautiful memories to have. Make as many memories as you can.” 

Contact Cheyenne Derksen Schroeder by email at cderksen@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter at @MacSentinel.