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Collins graduates with associate degree amid battle with brain tumor

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Abby Collins, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor and hydrocephalus thirteen years ago, thought she was going to have to drop out of college last semester after being hospitalized in September 2022. Instead, she celebrated the new year as a Dalton State graduate.

Collins graduated in Fall 2022 with her Associate of Arts in General Studies and is currently continuing her studies, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in psychology.

At graduation, Collins’ graduation robes were adorned with layers of bead necklaces.

“They’re called Beads of Courage,” Lynn Collins, Abby’s mother, said. “Every bead tells a story of her journey from these past thirteen years. The beads stand for every poke, chemo treatment, hospital stay, surgery, emergency visit, clinic visit, port flushes, scans, MRIs and so much more.”

During her seven-year tenure at Dalton State, Collins has faced many health struggles related to her diagnosis, a type of Glioma brain tumor located in the occipital area. Taking a daily chemo pill, Collins experiences chronic headaches.

“With the headaches, it has been a challenge to be able to focus and think clearly,” Collins said. “It has limited the number of classes I can take at a time to ensure not to overload myself. It was an up and down struggle to manage my headaches and studies to reach my goal.”

But Collins refused to let her medical challenges deter her from graduating and continuing the pursuit of her career goal – becoming a child life specialist. A child life specialist is a trained healthcare provider who works with children experiencing illness, injury or hospitalization. Dalton State does not currently have a child life specialist program pathway and Collins hopes to eventually transfer to the program offered at the University of Georgia.

“That’s my dream, to become a child life specialist” Collins said. “They’re like a caretaker. They sit with kids when they’re in the hospital and help them understand different things they are experiencing like getting ready for surgery or what to expect after surgery.”

In addition to pursuing her studies, Collins volunteers at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta weekly.

“I’ve been volunteering at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta since I was a senior in high school. I volunteer weekly with the first child life specialist I had when I was in the hospital. I enjoy being able to get experience in the career that I hope to pursue,” Collins said. “I love volunteering because it gives me a chance to give back after all that I have gone through and help those around me and see what it’s like being on the other side of things. It gives me an opportunity to be there for the kids just like all the child life specialists who were there for me during my time in the hospital.”

Collins continues to take daily chemo medication, attend clinic visits, have routine port flushes and MRI scans every three months, Lynn Collins said.

Amidst the many medical appointments, volunteering and balancing college life, Collins is recognized by faculty and staff for her unwavering dedication to her academic and career goals.

“Among the many things to admire about Abby is her faithfulness and consistency,” said Barbara Tucker, department chair of Communication, Performing Arts and Foreign Languages at Dalton State. “She was always in class with her work ready and a smile.”

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