Keith Collins was only 38-years-old when he was diagnosed with one of the most aggressive types of brain tumour. He had a huge seizure in the middle of Romford’s high street on a Saturday in 2012. He hit his head hard on the pavement and so he was rushed to Queen’s Hospital for treatment. As he lived alone, it is possible that Keith had smaller seizures at home prior to this but this was never confirmed.
As Keith was deaf, he had no mobile phone and he couldn’t recall the details of his next of kin following the seizure. So, it took a few days for medical staff to track down his loved ones – his brother Trevor and his sister-in-law, Nicola.
Following a scan, he was soon diagnosed with a suspected Glioblastoma which was confirmed following a biopsy. Surgery to remove the tumour wasn’t possible due to its location but doctors thought that it may have been growing for up to 10 years. The medical team also felt that chemotherapy was not an option for Keith as his mental state was not reliable enough to monitor whether its impact. Keith was given just three months to live.
Over the months that followed, Keith’s mental and physical condition declined rapidly and Trevor and Nicola did all that they could to support him.
It was also Keith’s love of Britney Spears which kept him going through his ordeal. His story is part of a new book which is out now - ‘Being Britney: Pieces of a Modern Icon’ by Jennifer Otter Bickerdike.
Nicola said: “Looking back, there were changes in Keith’s behaviour but we didn’t know what was causing them at the time. He lacked the empathy he used to have and he developed a strange little laugh after almost everything he said. Most noticeably, after the seizure, nothing was ever quite the same.
“As Keith was young, the physical impact of his brain tumour was minimal to begin with – he was still able live alone with some help although he would come to our house every day for dinner and company. He also used to go into London regularly to walk around and visit the places near where he used to work.”
As the months passed, Keith lost the ability to walk unaided but even after his diagnosis he still dreamt of taking an extensive walking holiday around the world.
The family soon became increasingly aware of Keith’s decline which he had hidden from them for a long time. Although he used to be very house proud, Keith had stopped letting family into his home – and it was only whilst he was in hospital following his diagnosis that Nicola and Trevor found out why. His home was filthy and littered with takeaway boxes, unopened post and untouched Christmas gifts.
The family also found out that Keith had taken voluntary redundancy from his job with the MOD yet he had not told anyone and subsequently let his finances get into trouble. On one occasion after his diagnosis, Keith went to his former office and was both surprised and confused as to why they didn’t let him in as he had totally forgotten that he no longer worked there.
Nicola added: “This was all extremely unusual for Keith. He had decorated the house himself including installing the kitchen to a very high standard. When we went to check on his house we were utterly shocked by what we found.
“He had also loved his job and being in a busy atmosphere where there was always so much going on. Keith had hidden his voluntary redundancy from us for six months. This was so unusual for him.”
It was Keith’s love of the music of Britney Spears which helped him through the ordeal. Following his diagnosis, he chose to send his huge collection of memorabilia to the Kentwood Museum in the singer’s hometown in Louisiana where it is still on display today. A large painting Keith created of his idol also hangs proudly next to the collection.
“It was very important for Keith to send his entire collection to the museum. He tried to do it himself one time but he had a seizure in the post office so we arranged for it all to be sent by courier for him instead. He was very emotional when he saw a photo of his items on display there. Keith loved everything about Britney – he was a fan right from the very beginning. It was just always about Britney for him. He couldn’t ever pick a favourite song as he adored them all."
Nicola added: “We knew Keith wanted to meet Britney before he died and he even tried to get to L.A. to do so but, of course, that couldn’t happen. Instead, we did everything he wanted to do here including visit Colchester Zoo which he had loved as a child, we saw Wicked in London and also a play starring Sheridan Smith who was also one of his favourite actresses.”
Nicola and Trevor struggled to find facilities to help Keith as his young age prevented access to some services at the time. However, the NHS soon funded Keith’s care at a local BUPA hospital for physically disabled young adults. Sadly, he continued to deteriorate, his memory failed and he was often confused about what his prognosis actually meant or how the treatment could help him.
Keith needed help from Nicola and Trevor to manage the regular medication he was taking including steroids, anti-seizure medication, painkillers and also anti-depressants. The steroids also made his face swell which upset him and they also increased his appetite which led to weight gain.
Keith spent the last three months of his life at the BUPA hospital as he slipped into a coma. He passed away nine months after his diagnosis in February with Nicola and Trevor holding his hands.
Nicola said: “Unsurprisingly, Keith had depression and it was clear that he was very angry about what was happening to him. He changed so much which we found so difficult to handle – including how he held an unexplained grudge against his brother for a while. We felt that the tumour was affecting him in a similar way to dementia. Yet, he never lost his loving side and, in the later months, he liked nothing better than to cuddle our dog and play with our friend’s baby.”
Keith’s family have spent the years which followed his passing supporting The Brain Tumour Charity through The Keith Collins Fund which has so far raised nearly £6,000. Nicola was originally in touch with The Samantha Dickson Trust, which later became The Brain Tumour Charity, for advice on handling Keith’s finances and caring for him in the later stages of his life.
Nicola said: “I remember how incredibly helpful the Charity was even back then. When Keith was unwell, we realised how often brain tumours occur and we heard about other people who had been affected by Glioblastomas. We want to help fund research into these tumours to provide a lifeline to others in the future – only 2% of cancer research goes on brain tumours and this needs to change.
“We remember Keith with love and affection as cheeky, funny, artistic and a keen reader. He loved running, walking, cycling and travelling – and he really wanted to do more. We was tenacious and he never gave up. It took Keith a little longer to step out into the world because of his deafness but, when he did, he did everything at speed. He fit a lot into his 38 years.
“As bereaved relatives, we think the best way to keep Keith’s memory alive to help is by sharing information about brain tumours to raise awareness of the disease and to fundraise in any way we can.”