AUTHOR: MCKENZ

HED: Playing against cancer

By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

Two years ago, Bill Collins "filled in on the spur of the moment" when another player withdrew from the first North Mississippi Medical Center "Take a Swing at Cancer" golf tournament.

Last year, Collins was joined by his wife, Lisa, for the second annual tournament. It was a good cause.

But when the Collinses tee it up this year, the tournament will mean a whole lot more to them.

Last August, Bill Collins was diagnosed with colon cancer.

"Disbelief, surprise, shock," Collins, 37, described his reaction at the news. His family had no history of cancer.

"For a day or two it was kind of like we went through the motions (of life)," he recalled Wednesday. "Lisa and I just talked about it, prayed about it."

Their two daughters, Brooke, 10, and Mandy, 7, weren't really aware of what was happening, he said.

"I was scared to death," Lisa Collins, also 37, said. "We were positive about it though. I don't think we ever felt negative about it. Whatever it was we felt we could handle it."

The third swing

The third annual "Take a Swing at Cancer" runs Friday and Saturday at Natchez Trace Golf Club.

A few openings remain for both the men's Friday 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. shotgun tee times and the women's Saturday 9 a.m. shotgun start, said Linda Stokes, North Mississippi Health Services Foundation coordinator. Registration will begin an hour before tee time.

The format is a four-person scramble with limits of 48 men's teams and 24 women's teams. The entry fee is $75 per player for men, $60 for women.

The tournament benefits NMMC's Cancer Center Patient Care Fund. The fund is used to provide medicine, transportation, nutritional supplements, medical supplies and other items for needy patients who are undergoing treatment at North Mississippi Medical Center.

In its first year, the tournament produced $25,000 for the fund, Stokes said. Last year that climbed to $31,000.

In all, donations to the fund in 1997 totaled $93,000. The fund helped 450 patients.

"The entire amount was used to help needy cancer patients," Stokes said. "We have had great success with the first two tournaments, and it is our hope that the tournament will continue to grow each year."

Bill Collins has needed no help from NMMC's patient care fund, but he said he has learned a lot about the disease and the hardships it can bring.

"Some of the cancer treatments can be in the thousands of dollars each day," he said. "That can be tough even for people who have insurance. This (tournament) is a very worthwhile cause for that."

Unseen forces

Collins credits unseen forces for good fortune. Leaving work one night, he was struck with an urge to get a physical checkup. That produced the discovery of the disease that has been shown to be curable if caught early enough.

He underwent surgery twice in mid-December, once to determine the scope of the problem, the second to remove it.

"He has never had a negative day, I don't believe," Lisa Collins said.

The Collinses met while at Shannon High School and married in 1983 after she graduated from Ole Miss and he from Mississippi State.

Collins, owner of Pro Golf Discount of Tupelo and a three-handicapper, has played golf since before his teens. Lisa, a 24-handicapper, began after marriage.

"I knew I'd better like it," said Lisa, a first-grade teacher at Joyner Elementary School. "If I wanted to see him, I had to play golf. Now I love it. I'm hooked on it."

Collins' latest medical report was as good as he could probably hope for - no signs of cancer outside the colon wall.

"Absolutely," he says of his expectation to fully recover. "There's no alternative."

The couple credits prayer, their own and that of family and friends, for carrying them through the battle.

"A big thing I would say was our friends, they came out of the woodwork," Lisa Collins said. "We heard from people all over."

"That was the main thing that got us through, prayers to the good Lord," Bill Collins added.

The Northeast Mississippi Board of Realtors returns as corporate sponsor of the tournament for the third year.

Outback Steakhouse will donate the meals both days. Special social tickets for nonplaying partners sell for $10.

More information or tournament entry may be obtained by calling (601) 841-3613 or 1-800-843-3375.

"They can give us a call and let us know, then can register and pay on Friday or Saturday at the golf course," Stokes said.

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