Nineteen months after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Donaldsonville pastor Brad Collins is living life to the fullest. The single greatest factor that made a difference in his recovery? Having access to the best treatment close to home.
All along, Donaldsonville resident Brad Collins knew there was a greater plan at work.
In August of 2020, the local pastor and family patriarch saw his primary care physician for frequent migraines he’d been having, and was sent to his local hospital for a CT scan. They found a mass in his right temporal lobe, and Collins was diagnosed with glioblastoma-–terminal brain cancer.
Just a few days after his prognosis, Collins underwent brain surgery to remove the tumor. Then, his neurological care team referred him to Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Gonzales for subsequent radiation treatment.
Collins and his wife, Michelle, live on the Ascension/Assumption parish line, so if it weren’t for the Gonzales campus, the family would have had to travel over an hour for treatment, both ways. And when Brad had to undergo radiation therapy five days a week for six weeks, that proximity made a huge difference.
“I cannot overstate how convenient it was to get in the car and be just 25 to 30 minutes away from the best care, a comforting word, and hearts that want to help,” Collins says. “I mean, any issue that would come up, and Mary Bird Perkins would bend over backwards.”
Collins is the pastor of Community Worship Center in Belle Rose, and credits his steadfast faith with seeing him through the most difficult challenge of his life with grace. The Collins family received an outpouring of support; and not just from their church; the entire community showed up for them. When Michelle had to work and couldn’t take Brad to treatment, they depended on the help of nearby family and friends; local prayer circles and neighboring ministries raised money to help with Brad’s medical costs.
“The worst thing that could ever be told to a person has become a sweet thing in our lives because it has rallied the community and brought us closer together,” Collins says. “There’s not a place that I go in town or around the parish where people aren’t supportive and praying for my family. It’s truly been a blessing in disguise.”
Today, Collins is out of treatment, though he still visits the Gonzales cancer center for regular follow-up appointments. At his last checkup, he received good news—no new cancer growth, and even more than that, signs of healthy tissue regeneration. Collins is back in the driver’s seat and looking forward to a family vacation he and Michelle are planning, along with spending time with his newest grandchild, Bradley.
Collins is able to access personalized cancer care in part thanks to the efforts of Gonzales Area Foundation (GAF), a local nonprofit founded by community members with a desire to assist Mary Bird Perkins in making cancer prevention and treatment in Ascension Parish sustainable for generations to come. The group raises funds to ease the financial burden of treatment for patients, as well as early detection programs and transportation assistance for patients traveling to and from treatment.
DeEtte DeArmond, a founding member of the Gonzales Area Foundation, says that ensuring patients have access to treatment locally makes a huge difference in lessening the burden of cancer in their daily lives.
“The reason why this cause is so dear to our hearts is because it’s in our community. Patients like Brad are going through something no one should have to endure, and anything we can do to help shoulder that burden is very important to us.” DeArmond says. “This is our community, and we don’t want anyone to have to travel to New Orleans or Baton Rouge to receive treatment. They can get it right here in Ascension Parish.”