Katie Collier settled into a seat in the first row. The redshirt freshman wore a pair of purple shoes, matching shorts and a gray Washington T-shirt. A purple headband helped keep her long, braided blond hair in place.
She looked out across the Alaska Airlines Arena floor. Several teammates were shooting at a basket on the far end of the court. She started to smile.
Two years after beating cancer and a year removed from a knee injury that ended her freshman season before it started, Collier is happy. She’s healthy. Her life feels normal.
“Where am I now?” she asked before pausing. “I’m here. I’ve just got to live for now, because it’s so great.”
She refused to let cancer, or the injury, define her. Instead, those experiences refined her.
“It sounds weird, but I’m so happy I got cancer,” Collier said. “It’s opened up so many doors for me.”
When Collier woke up in a hotel room during her official visit to Washington, her gums were bleeding. She knew something was wrong.
She turned to Heather Corral – her roommate during the trip – and said, “Heather, there’s blood on my pillow.”
“I almost didn’t know what to think,” said Corral, who is now Collier’s teammate and good friend, but at the time had known her for less than two days. “My head was spinning. I couldn’t even imagine what she felt.”
More than a year after the injury, Collier is back on the floor. She is fighting for minutes. She is inspiring her teammates.
It was Sept. 24, 2011. Collier was supposed to attend Washington’s football game against California. Instead, she ended up at the hospital. She was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia.
Collier turned the diagnosis into a challenge. She took two chemotherapy pills a day. She made daily trips to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for an arsenic drip joined by her mother, Ann – a breast cancer survivor – and her sister, Megan.
The cafeteria at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance had “the best lemon loaves in the whole entire world,” and Megan made sure Katie got one each time the family made the trip north from their home in Covington.
After delivering the sweet treat, Megan would climb into the small hospital bed with her sister while she went through treatment.
“We’d tell my mom we worked on homework, but sometimes that didn’t happen,” Collier said with a laugh.
Despite everything Collier endured, she somehow found the energy to play her senior season at Seattle Christian School.
“At the time, that’s just what you have to do,” Collier said. “If you want something bad enough, you’re just going to do it.”
“Thank God I got cancer or I wouldn’t be able to communicate and relate with the kids the way I’m able to. ”
Two years later, she’s not quite sure how she found the strength.
“If someone else did that, I would be like ‘Holy cow, that seems crazy,’” she said.
Six months after her diagnosis, Collier was cancer free. Her family celebrated with a trip to Chicago for the McDonald’s All-American basketball game. Her story was featured on national TV.”
Looking back on the attention, she started to laugh. “I’m not that interesting,” she said. “It’s just me.”
For Collier, that game served as a way to put the cancer behind her.
“That game sealed it,” she said. “I’m fine now. I’m just going to move on.”