Hope Collins // First Time Mom // CSPA Board Member // Lost Father to Colon Cancer in 1991 // Born and raised in South Carolina // Clemson Fan // Boykin Spaniel Owner // Yogi // Life Motto – “The best view comes after the hardest climb”
Interview by Deb Spear, Photograph by Patrick Cox
My dad grew up in a very small town called Islandton, SC. You can see the house that my grandfather grew up in from their front porch. He had a quintessential country childhood. [He] went to Clemson and met my mom there. They fell in love and got married right out of college and had my older sister. Her name is Mandy. The night she was born my dad was sick as a dog. He was showing signs that he had cancer. They didn’t know it because it was colon cancer; they thought maybe it was ulcers or different things. They just thought, “You’re thirty. There’s no way that could happen to you.”
My sister was born in April and by July of that year he was diagnosed. He went right into chemo and different treatments but it was kind of too late. I don’t know where it had spread but it was to that point where they had to be very aggressive with his treatment. So he’s a new dad, still fairly new husband, very stressful times for them. They were living in Columbia. My grandparents and my mom’s parents were very involved, just trying to keep everything as normal as possible.
Mandy was born in 1988 and then I was born in 1990 in May, almost two years apart. He went through a lot of treatment, about four rounds of it. They were told by their doctors that even if he did survive, he wouldn’t be able to have any more children just based on the treatments that he had. So somehow I am truly a miracle. I was a complete surprise.
My name is actually Lauren Hope. That was because they just couldn’t figure out how to make Hope a first name. It was his choice to name me that because he hoped he would live to see me grow up. But unfortunately that was not the case for him. He died in October and my birthday is in May. I think I was a year and a half, so I don’t really have any memories of him. My sister has very few, because she was about three year old at that point, maybe three and a half.
I give my mom a lot of credit. In first grade, we had to write why our family was special. It was a drawing of a family of four – me, my mom, my step-dad, my sister – and an angel in heaven. I wrote that I was special because I have two dads. One is in heaven and the other is at home with me. We talked about my dad, my biological father, so growing up we were able to have a great relationship with my grandparents and my aunt. I know she cared deeply about my grandparents. I’m sure it made her feel connected to her husband even though she was happily married to my [step]dad.
They met on a blind date. He wasn’t really interested in going on this date. He was just trying to get someone at work off his back. He opened the door and said, “This is dinner, movie and adult conversation and that’s it.” Thankfully he went; they enjoyed it; they got married when I was five years old. He adopted us and raised us as his own. He never expected us to call him Dad, but it was just a natural thing. (If he disciplined us, he was Gary.) So when I say “my dad,” I have stepdad that I consider to be my father. He’s been a great support.
My mom had a lot of health issues herself. [She died in 2010] I wish that someone would have been more forceful in my family to say, “We all need to go talk through this.” I didn’t get any therapy until I was in college. I think that more people should take advantage of it. Having support to talk things through, whether that’s family members to better understand, or a therapist, you’ve got to let people in to help you. You have to be open to it.
One of my really good friends is having some issues with a family member having alcohol issues. I was like, “Well, this is nothing.” But it wasn’t fair for me to dismiss the challenges they were facing as a family. Their struggles are just different from ours. But you do find yourself in that, “My pain is more difficult. This road has been harder for me.” I know that I’ve done that before. I try to get over it but . . .
I would definitely say that family is very important to me. While I say that we’re not all great about talking about things all the time or what we’re feeling about things, we’ve always felt like family first and that we’ve got to be there for each other. I married a Damn Yankee from Connecticut, the most normal human being and family in the world. No divorce in their family, no tragedy. We met at Clemson. I love that parallel story. My husband is a huge support for me. While he wasn’t around, he never had a chance to meet my mom or my dad, he’s such a strong person. He takes on that grief and those challenges that I’m facing. He’s the biggest cheerleader. I so appreciate that.
Last year at Thanksgiving we were just starting on that IVF journey. It’s really wonderful to be where we are this year versus last year when we were really struggling. Different obstacles that we faced last year, while it felt like a delay, were really an opportunity for us to grow as a couple.
I was talking with my grandmother about it. She’s very supportive in our journey to have children. I was struggling with that — am I not able to have a baby because my dad went through chemotherapy? I just worry and worry and worry. She is really one of the strongest people that I know. I live it but she breathes it, and that is how she gets through things. She’s found a way to use it for good in her life and help others. My dad’s younger brother passed away when they were in middle school. So she’s lost two children way too young, but she says that God doesn’t make mistakes and you just have to hold onto faith and hope. It’s such a sad thing. Of course she wishes her children were here but I believe it too, that He doesn’t make mistakes and we just have to keep faith in it and hold onto that, that there’s purpose in loss and a lot of growth results.
I think it’s been a real blessing that my name has been Hope. It’s a great way I can keep his memory alive. I talked to my grandmother yesterday. I’ve been able to take her to the park and we’ve honored his memory with a plaque. She’s been able to walk through that park and she’s getting to see my service on the board. Even though I didn’t have a really long relationship with him, I’m keeping his memory alive. I know that that means a lot to her, that he’s stilI there in some way.
I think it’s a beautiful thing that Kay [Cancer Survivors Park Alliance director] wants to honor our baby. Her name is Liddy. I know my dad would love her. He does, and he’s one of those people who knew she was going to be here before we knew she was. The due date is January 21 and we are excited about that. There’s so much hope in that. I do wish my dad was here to meet her, but he’s going to be an angel for her, her whole life.