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Originally published Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 3:27 PM

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UW’s Collier battles back after leukemia treatment, knee injury

After battling leukemia then a severe knee injury, the University of Washington’s Katie Collier is returning to form on the court, averaging 5.4 points and 2.9 rebounds per game as a reserve center.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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Katie Collier stepped onto the court at Alaska Airlines Arena for her first game as a college basketball player, and her mother excused herself to the concourse.

“I just lost it,” Ann Collier said of being overwhelmed before Washington’s exhibition matchup in October. The game was her youngest daughter’s last step in recovering from a two-year battle to play basketball again.

Collier’s playing career was first threatened in September 2011, when she was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia.Treatment included daily arsenic drip chemotherapy.

Then a star at Seattle Christian, Collier managed to resume playing in December, despite severe dehydration and exhaustion. Two weeks after her final treatment in April 2012, she even played in the McDonald’s All-American game in Chicago.

But her playing career was threatened again in July 2012, when Collier tore the anterior cruciate ligament, the medial collateral ligaments and the meniscus in her right knee. A 6-foot-3 center, Collier spent her true freshman season at UW rehabilitating the knee injury.

By October 2013, a bulky black brace was the only hint of her two-year struggle to play. Collier started and finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds in the exhibition win against Concordia.

“We didn’t know if she’d live, and then her injury…so it’s just emotional that she can even play,” Ann Collier said.

For Ann and her husband, Mark, watching their daughter play again turned into a four-year adventure — well, five given that Collier was granted an additional season of eligibility due to the knee injury.

The couple committed to traveling to every Washington game through Collier’s college career. Ann, who’s a nurse, requests her days off a month in advance to coordinate with the basketball schedule.

This week the Colliers are headed to Los Angeles to watch UW (11-9, 3-5 Pac-12) play at UCLA (10-11, 4-5) on Friday and USC (14-7, 7-2) on Sunday. Collier averages 5.4 points and 2.9 rebounds in 14.6 minutes as a reserve.

Although the adventure wasn’t designed as a way to watch over Collier, the youngest of five children, her parents are immediately by her side if there’s a concern. Collier felt flu-like symptoms in December and was alarmed because similar symptoms were the initial sign she had leukemia.

“The blood work was fine but it does trigger that fear,” said Ann, who’s also a cancer survivor. “And often we don’t know how she’s feeling because she doesn’t complain.”

Those calls are less frequent. Instead of rushed trips to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and being jarred from sleep by medical emergencies, now trips are planned to warm destinations like Los Angeles or Arizona, and the aroma of baked goods draws Mark from slumber at home.

Ann volunteered to provide the team’s postgame treats the past two seasons. Staples like “puppy chow,” trail mix, cookies or brownies are individually wrapped in Washington’s purple and gold colors to distribute. The amount has grown from enough to feed the players to extras for ushers and others.

“Pretty soon it’s going to be a whole stadium thing,” Mark joked.

Collier rarely sees her parents during the season. During UW’s two-game road stint to play the Oregon schools last week, her parents took time to rent quads for some fun at the coast. They did a little gambling during Washington’s three-game tournament in Las Vegas and visited some historical sites between games in Texas.

This week the Colliers will visit their son Adam and his family and make a trip to Disneyland with their grandchildren. But the best part is watching their daughter play.

“She’s really getting back to kind of where she left off three years ago,” Mark said during halftime of UW’s loss at Oregon on Sunday. Collier played 11 minutes. “She’s our last one (child), so we want to support the coaches and team as much as we can and enjoy the experience.”

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.



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