Kaleb Collins credits his osteosarcoma diagnosis at age 10 with many of the good things in his life today — particularly his marriage and children.
When Kaleb Collins was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at 10 years old, he did not think he would ever consider cancer a blessing. In fact, he was pretty angry while he was going through treatment.
“I thought the world was against me, particularly when I found out I could not play sports anymore,” Kaleb says. “I was so competitive, and I didn’t want to lose that.”
Prior to his diagnosis, Kaleb played baseball and basketball, and spent much of his free time running around and playing soccer with friends in Wichita Falls, Texas. It was during one of his baseball games that he began limping for no apparent reason.
“My mom and my coach were yelling at me, asking what was wrong, and I said ‘nothing’ because I felt completely fine. I did not even realize I was limping,” Kaleb says. “The next morning, I was watching TV with my dad when he noticed my knee was so swollen, you could barely see my kneecap.”
A Long Road
After an X-ray, CAT scan, and biopsy, Kaleb’s osteosarcoma was diagnosed on May 8, 2007, just before the end of fourth grade. He started chemotherapy the following week, traveling two hours to Dallas each way for treatment with one parent while the other stayed home with Kaleb’s two older brothers.
“My parents sacrificed a lot for me, and so did my brothers. They did a fantastic job. I had a great support system, not only with my brothers and my parents, but also my grandparents and my cousins,” Kaleb says. “I always tell people I would rather be the patient than have to be the sibling or the parent of a kid going through cancer because of what they have to go through and the mental stress that they have.”
“My parents sacrificed a lot for me, and so did my brothers. I had a great support system, not only with my brothers and my parents, but also my grandparents and my cousins.” — Kaleb Collins, osteosarcoma survivor
At the end of August 2007, Kaleb had limb-salvage surgery and a prosthesis put in. But the implant proved to be faulty and could not withstand use from an active kid.
“I kept breaking it and had to have five or six different surgeries between 11 and 18, when I got my current implant,” Kaleb says.
When Kaleb Collins lost his hair due to chemotherapy, his baseball team shaved their heads in solidarity.
Because of the problems with his implant and the multiple surgeries, Kaleb is only able to bend his right knee about 40 to 50 degrees “on a good day,” he says. He also has a 3-inch discrepancy in length between his right and left leg. While it does not bother him now, it is something he will likely have to deal with in the future to avoid back problems.
In February 2008, Kaleb had his final chemotherapy treatment. The next month, he began a 70-week clinical trial with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital that involved weekly injections of interferon to help prevent cancer recurrence.
Off to Camp
The summer after Kaleb finished chemotherapy, he went to Camp Sanguinity, hosted by Cook Children’s Health Care System for kids with cancer and blood disorders.
“I really did not want to go at first,” Kaleb says. “It did not sound at all like my cup of tea.”
Of course, Kaleb ended up having a fantastic time and decided to go back in 2009 and 2010, too. The summer before his senior year of high school, Kaleb returned to Camp Sanguinity as a counselor-in-training. There, he reconnected with Shelbie, a former camper and leukemia survivor who was also returning in a leadership capacity.
“We just became great friends from that point on,” Kaleb says.
Even though Shelbie lived about two hours away, the two began dating toward the end of their senior year in high school. After a year of long distance, Shelbie moved to Wichita Falls and transferred to Midwestern State University to be closer to Kaleb. The couple got married on Valentine’s Day 2020.
Growing Their Family
Not long after tying the knot, Kaleb and Shelbie started thinking about expanding their family. Given their histories with cancer and chemotherapy, they knew their chances of conceiving naturally were low. One of Kaleb’s doctors had even told him that his chances were “slim to none.” But the couple wanted to explore their options, and so they scheduled an appointment with a fertility specialist for January 2021.
“Well, we found out we were pregnant on Dec. 27, 2020,” Kaleb says. “We got to cancel that appointment.”
Kaleb and Shelbie welcomed their son, Graham, in 2021. Less than two years later, they received more good news.
“Truth be told, we thought getting pregnant with Graham was just a random thing, but we are now expecting our baby girl, Ivy, in January 2024,” Kaleb says.
If it was not for his osteosarcoma, Kaleb might never have met Shelbie and have the family he does today. He also says having cancer as a child shaped his outlook on life.
“Life would be a lot different if I had not had cancer,” Kaleb says. “It is not all about despair and hating the world because you are going through something bad. It is about how you spin it and make it into a positive thing. Having cancer helped shape my personality and my mental fortitude in the long run.”
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