A friend tells you the truth, even when it hurts.
Though Michael Collins grew up in church, he was skipping classes, partying and working three jobs his third year at Western Kentucky University in 2002 when he met a shopper named Brandon West during his shift at Walmart.
“I was looking at some sporting goods attire, and he was an employee,” said West, a Southeast Christian Church member. “I didn’t know it at the time, but he had been asked to leave college. We talked at the counter, and I just asked him, ‘How do you like working here?’ I just kind of engaged him as being friendly. He said, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t want to be here the rest of my life.’”
The two exchanged contact information and West, who owns his own business, told Collins he might have a job opportunity available to him down the road.
“What I realized is sometimes how you attract people on the front end is through something worldly,” West said. “I kind of used the money and opportunity as bait. Just as Jesus helped the disciples catch fish before He asked them to follow Him, you’ve got to meet people at their physical needs first. What I did for Michael was I got him out of Walmart and got him a better opportunity … to where I earned his respect and trust. You can’t pull (the line) until you’ve connected.”
Collins and West became friends, and one day West noticed Collins and his girlfriend, Karen, had a joint checking account. West, who used to struggle sharing his faith, boldly spoke up.
“We weren’t married, and we had the same address,” Collins said. “Brandon goes, ‘Michael, your name and Karen’s name are on here together and at the same address. Are you guys living together?’ I go, ‘Yea, we’re living together.’ He goes, ‘Who told you that’s right? Where in the Bible does it say that? Don’t call yourself a Christian and live these standards that aren’t of Christ. Either say you’re in or you’re not.’ And he just really hit me. I had never had anyone talk to me that way.”
West challenged Collins to live for Christ.
“That’s kind of where my journey began because Brandon had standards I had never seen before,” Collins said. “He started talking to me about what it means to be a Christian, how a Christian acts, and he challenged me.”
Collins and his girlfriend moved their wedding up and got married three months later. They both rededicated their lives to Jesus, and Karen was baptized.
“Labor Day weekend I decided that I was no longer going to live with my girlfriend,” Collins added. “I gave up drinking, drugs, swearing as best as I could, smoking cigarettes and pornography. It’s been 17 years. Brandon said, ‘If you want to be an example to people, you have to hold your standard high.’”
Collins and West have been business partners ever since, but more than that, they remain best friends.
Happy 35th birthday
The Collinses continued to grow in Christ and joined Southeast in 2005. They had two sons, Xander and Caleb, and business was good.
On Labor Day 2015, everything turned upside down. Collins was diagnosed with stage-four throat cancer.
Doctors told him they would need to remove a lymph node in his neck and his tonsils and start him on chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
“Radiation was 35 days of treatment back-to-back,” Collins said. “So they zap your neck and burn the cancer cells. My 35th birthday I celebrated on the radiation table.”
The six chemotherapy treatments took such a toll on Collins’ body that he dropped from 200 pounds to 120 in five weeks. He was only able to eat protein powder and ice chips, and also lost his taste buds and the ability to swallow.
Healed, whole, worthy
West was still in his corner.
“All those years I just taught him about living victorious,” West said. “I sat and talked with him, ‘The Word says, “No weapon formed against you shall prosper.” It doesn’t say it won’t form against you, but it’s not going to prosper. He’s not done with you yet. You’ve got a big story. Just don’t let anything come out of your mouth that’s negative.’”
Collins was hurting, but he continued to hope in God for healing.
“When I was on the bed, I would sit there and pray over and over again, ‘My body is healed. My body is whole. I am worthy,’” Collins said.
When Collins was at his lowest, weak and unable to eat anything, Jesus touched his body.
“I was laying on the table,” Collins added. “You’re strapped down. You can’t feel anything. You’re in a vaulted room. No airflow. I’m lying there with my arms spread. I just vividly felt somebody grab my hand, and I knew it was Jesus in that room. I could feel Him gripping. I started to weep … I can still feel it today. It was kind of one of those moments you’re like, ‘I’m never washing my hand again.’”
Collins never let cancer blind him from the broken people around him.
“Every doctor’s visit, I had them playing Christian music for me … so they would rock it out in the morning while I was laying on the table,” Collins added. “When I was getting chemo treatments, I would walk around saying, ‘Hi’ to everybody and trying to speak life into everybody … the nurses, doctors and patients.”
Collins finished treatments in November 2015, and he is able to eat like he used to, his taste buds are back and his salivary glands continue to heal.
“It was a little scary moment,” West said. “He was already a great man of God, but after that, he’s elevated to a whole other level with how he sees life, his standards, his kids, his wife. He’s taken something that could have taken him down, and he not only beat it, but is now using it to help other people.”
Collins now comforts others battling throat cancer.
“Today they recommend people calling me when they’re having trouble,” Collins said. “I still go over there and hang out about every other month. I like to go sit in the lobbies where it’s negative because there was no one being positive about life. I let them know they’re going to get through it, that life is better, and your story means something. It means something from somebody who has gone through the same thing.”
And he uses his story to help others whenever he can.
“I always felt my story was going to be overcoming alcohol and pornography, and I could connect with men because I quit those things and replaced them with God,” Collins added. “What I didn’t know was … He was preparing me for my cancer that I could fight and win. I know if I wouldn’t have gone through all that before, it would not have been the same outcome.”