Inspired by her volunteerism and fighting spirit, two groups were moved to recognize the Cartersville resident with awards and gifts Tuesday. After receiving the Volunteer of the Year award from the Cartersville Service League, she attended the Surviving to Share dinner in Rome, where she was one of the contest's three winners.
"It was a very special day," said Collier, who has two children -- Michael, 19, and Cara, 16 -- with her husband of 21 years. "It was incredible that something like this would happen in the first place and then both to happen on the same day was something else. I was aware of the Volunteer of the Year award. They had advised me of that prior to going to the luncheon [Tuesday], but the Surviving to Share [award] was a complete surprise.
"Going back to the Volunteer of the Year, I had been contacted about that and I was very humbled because there is so many people in the Service League that are former members who are very worthy of this award, and to be singled out is a true honor and I really appreciated it. [On Tuesday], what was so special at the luncheon was that everyone wore pink, and there were pink balloons on the tables and it was just a really special thing for me. Following the invocation we had pink balloons that were released to honor or to remember people who have suffered with breast cancer."
CSL Volunteer of the Year
Selected by a committee within the CSL, the Volunteer of the Year award is presented to a former member who still is an active volunteer.
A CSL member from 1997 through 2003, Collier is a member of the Friends of the Ballet, Georgia Highlands College's foundation board and Sam Jones Memorial United Methodist Church; and the school council chairwoman for Cass High School. She also served on the planning committee for the Clarence Brown Conference Center and has assisted the Etowah Valley Humane Society, The Pettit Preserve and Advocates for Children's annual benefit, Every Child's a Star.
"I met Melanie when I was about 8 years old because she worked on the [mayoral] campaign for my dad, who was Sam Smith," said Ginny Smith Weaver, chairwoman for the CSL Volunteer of the Year Committee. "That's one of the first candidate campaigns that she had done.
"Of course that's not volunteer work, but since that time she has been involved with the bands at her children's schools. She's been involved with The Pettit Preserve, the Humane Society, Georgia Highlands College Foundation and all of those things she has done in her spare time, as well as continuing to volunteer even though her and her husband have been struck both with cancer. [The award is] not about her illness and it's not about her doing a job. But it's about her having an illness, doing her job, having two children and continuing to want to serve the community."
Established in 1941, the CSL is comprised of Bartow County women who serve a six-year active term and volunteer at least 30 hours per year in the community.
Some of their volunteer efforts include conducting hearing and vision screenings for kindergarten students in the Bartow County School System; distributing a meal on Sunday evenings to Flowering Branch Children's shelter residents; volunteering with the Special Olympics Committee in Bartow County; and tutoring children at the Boys & Girls Club's Cartersville unit. They also equip area children with school supplies, gifts and necessities throughout the year.
Prior to Collier, other Volunteer of the Year winners were 2009-2010 Becki Post, 2008-2009 Michelle Roberson, 2007-2008 Becky Tumlin Jarrett, 2006-2007 Dee Dellinger, 2005-2006 Dianne Pike, 2004-2005 Donna Clayton, 2003-2004 Susan Wade, 2002-2003 Bonnie Floyd, 2001-2002 Nancy Brant, 2000-2001 Daneise Archer, 1999-2000 Nancy Newman, 1998-1999 Terry Nelson, 1997-1998 Adele Howell, 1996-1997 Candy Smith, 1995-1996 Anne Sims, 1994-1995 Elizabeth Harris and 1993-1994 Sue Jackson.
Surviving to Share
Sponsored by Cartersville Medical Center's The Hope Center, Redmond Regional Medical Center and Polk Medical Center, the Surviving to Share program has been celebrating individuals, who have beaten breast cancer, since 2003.
Of the 19 entries, Collier's journey of battling breast cancer was selected as one of the top three submissions, showering her with a multitude of gifts, including a two-night stay at Barnsley Gardens Resort. Also awarded were Casie Payne of Rome and Susan Dupree of Piedmont, Ala. While these three participants were honored for their stories of recovery, all of the written submissions will be compiled in a free booklet that will be shared with cancer patients later this month.
Held during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the purpose of the contest is "to raise awareness and further educate women about breast cancer and to allow survivors to share their stories with others," said Ginger Tyra, director of marketing and public relations for Cartersville Medical Center.
"Melanie's story is unique because not only is she the patient, she is also the caregiver and support system for her husband, Bob, who was diagnosed with cancer just one month following Melanie's diagnosis. In turn, Bob, who would be the likely caregiver for Melanie, also became the patient. Theirs is a sweet story of commitment, dedication and love for each other and their family."
In Collier's account, she discusses her cancer diagnosis and treatment and lists her physicians -- Dr. Rhonda Wachsmuth, Dr. Marcus Crawford and Dr. Madhurima Uppalapati. She also challenges women to courageously face their illness head on and continue to see the joys of life.
After being diagnosed at 48 with ductal carcinoma in situ in her left breast Feb. 3, Collier underwent a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction on March 5. Her surgery was followed by chemotherapy treatments at The Hope Center building in Cartersville from April 13 to July 27, and she still is receiving infusions of Herceptin through April 2011.
"The single most important thing to me [is] that people benefit from our story," Collier said. "Women are just not educated on the different forms of breast cancer and how important early detection is. I take issue with the recent stories that were read in the headlines about waiting for mammograms until you're 50 years old.
"I was diagnosed at 48 and there was a young lady [Tuesday] night that had been diagnosed at age 26. It's very important to me that my story encourages women to take care of themselves. That is the single most important thing in all of this to me."
Through her story, Collier hopes newly diagnosed patients will be inspired to find the blessings that exist daily while battling this disease.
"I don't want to oversimplify this or minimize the significance of the seriousness of the disease but I know I'm a better person for the fact that I have gone through cancer," Collier said. "You just learn so much about yourself and you learn so much about your relationships with other people. Your outlook on life changes. It's amazing what you learn about yourself. And secondly, the most important thing they need to know is to remain strong in their faith because I know that it is by the absolute grace of God that I am here and able to talk about it.
"It is very important to me that people try to not be scared but just learn the facts and go through the process, because when you begin your treatment and you're first faced with the diagnosis, it is frightening. Yet at the same time ... I feel like you've got to keep your sense of humor, your positive attitude and forge ahead on getting well."
For more information about obtaining a Surviving to Share booklet that will be available starting Oct. 25, call Tyra at 770-607-1017.