"You have to decide to persevere."
FAMILY: Husband Tim; son Thomas, 8; mother, Elfriede Lawrence; brother, Lester; sisters Barbara and Linda
OCCUPATION: Principal, Pine Hill Middle School
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT: March 10, 2009; mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation
Collingsworth found a lump during a routine self-exam two weeks after her mammogram came back clear.
She had always had to have repeat mammograms, but she never expected to have cancer.
The school year was drawing to a close, and she had just been named principal of the new Pine Hill Middle School, which opened in fall 2009.
"I had to hire a whole new staff and open a school," she said. "I was fearful about tackling (the new job)."
Focusing on the new job, completing her doctorate (she was already enrolled in classes) and maintaining a sense of normalcy kept her going through her treatments.
Her family also kept her strong. Her husband and son gave her a teddy bear she took into surgery with her. It recites the prayer "Now I lay me down to sleep."
"I have a little one. He's 8 years old," Collingsworth said. "I want to be alive to see him grow. I want to do whatever is necessary to make sure I'm here."
"Initially, when you're diagnosed with cancer, you're scared," she said. "You want to quit. You automatically think death. But you can't quit."