When reflecting on his wife of 30 years, it’s Patti’s overwhelming generosity that Larry Collister quickly remembers. He’s quick to highlight numerous instances of her gratitude. There was the family in Las Vegas who didn’t have enough money to pay for their meal or the Hope Free Lutheran Church that was struggling to supply its food bank. Occasionally, someone didn’t have enough money to cover a grocery bill, or a neighbor’s driveway would be packed with snow.
In each of those cases, Patti was there to assist, whether it was a friend or stranger.“My wife was one of the most giving people,” Larry said. “She wouldn’t hesitate to help anyone.”
Even after Patti’s death in October 2019 due to a brain tumor, her and Larry’s generosity lives on. Thanks to the care and positive experience from the UP Health System – Marquette team, Larry decided to become a major donor for the August 22, 2020, Virtual Hope Starts Here event, pledging $5,000 for this year’s event and $1,000 annually to the Brain Tumor Research at the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center – a 15-year collaboration between UPHS – Marquette and Northern Michigan University.
“Patti was so impressed with how they took care of her,” Larry said. “Dr. Sonia Geschwindt was excellent. You couldn’t have asked for better care from her. She explained in great detail to us what was going on in a way we could understand.”
Larry describes his and Patti’s marriage as “knowing each other like the back of a book.” It’s their familiarity with each other which immediately gave Larry red flags about Patti’s changes in behavior during February of 2019. She’d leave tasks uncompleted, left the water running, and would have stomach aches before experiencing debilitating pain. When Larry took her to UPHS – Marquette, Patti was taken in for an MRI and an exam. The physician on-call eventually delivered the heartbreaking news to Larry and his wife: Glioblastoma brain tumor.
“They said my wife had a tumor that’s a size of a fist on one side of her brain, and it’s not curable and my wife will not survive,” he said. “My life fell apart right there.”
The family was presented with their options: Avoid surgery and Patti could live for three months, tops, or go through with surgery and undergo chemotherapy and radiation for six weeks, or not do the treatment.
Patti elected to go through with the surgery on March 1. She would receive X-rays and chemotherapy radiation, but the tumor continued to resurface. During regular visits with Dr. Geschwindt, Larry and his wife would be updated on the status of the tumor.
“She would give an update and we would sit in a room and see where it was on a computer screen,” he said. “She told us she couldn’t operate on it, and if she tried to take it out, Patti wouldn’t survive the surgery.”
Through the care and treatment she received, Patti continued to fight for eight months following her surgery. During that time, she and Larry took part in the 2019 Hope Starts Here event, and the Collisters fostered another positive bond, this time with the Hope Starts Here Technical Director, Jamilyne Spruytte, who works in clinic administration at UPHS – Marquette. With Larry set to take part in the 5K portion of the race, he was looking to set up Patti with a partner to walk with her for the event. He managed to work with Jamilyne to find JP Velasco, an NMU student, to accompany his wife and help orchestrate the group that would run in his wife’s honor, Patti’s Angels.
“I was impressed and developed a friendship with Jamilyne,” said Larry, who was also impressed by the support and assistance he received from family and friends. “We were getting together a lot with my friends, buying t-shirts for Patti’s Angels, and when I was having rough times, everyone would come to my door and make sure I was OK.”
The extended care and generosity the Collisters received were consistent throughout. Larry cites Dr. James Baer, a radiation-oncologist for UP Health System – Marquette and the nursing staff for making Patti as comfortable as possible during chemotherapy radiation, and how the research students at NMU gave Patti a chemo care package, which included puzzles and a mug. Patti displayed her gratitude by regularly handing out hugs to everyone she came across.
“The research students at Northern Michigan University do a fantastic job,” Larry said. “Many things zoom over the top of my head, but I was impressed with them and everyone who came by and helped us out.”
Now, Larry will return the favor with an annual donation to the UMBTC — exactly in the same fashion as the generosity Patti was known for.
For more information on the UPHS – Marquette Brain and Spine Center, please call 906.449.3600, or click here.