Katie Collier stood against the wall of the kitchen, tears welling up in but not quite falling from her blue eyes, as she listened to parents from California explain how important the Ronald McDonald House is to their son Brandon.
"I was trying to hold myself together," Collier said. "It showed me how my parents must have felt."
Collier is just a few weeks past her final chemotherapy treatment, signaling what is expected to be the end of her six-month battle with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). On Sunday, the 6-foot-3 post player from Covington, Wash., joined the rest of the 2012 McDonald's All-Americans at the Ronald McDonald House in downtown Chicago.
As the busloads of seemingly gigantic superheroes arrived at the driveway packed with kids, families and staff of the Ronald McDonald House, the University of Washington signee blended in with the rest of the crew that received cheers and high-fives as they entered the house. But in just minutes, the subtle differences that set Collier apart from the group began to emerge.
In a room packed with all the McDonald's All-Americans, coaches and other staff, as well as some of the families currently calling the facility home, an older woman standing with a cane looked out across the crowded room. One person stood up to offer her seat: Collier.
But it was clear that Collier did not want the attention on her, but on the kids. She was relieved that none of the other players had asked her if she was the kid with cancer yet.
"It seems so much harder compared to what I went through," Collier said. "Some of these kids were here a year ago or more. And they're so much smaller and can't handle it the way I did."
Mother Nature blessed the Chicago area with sun and warmth Sunday, and Collier and the West girls' team went outside to shoot around with some RMH kids and their families. Each of the players had their own way with the kids, some more outgoing than others, but Collier's perspective again made her stand out.
"You don't focus on their sickness; you play games and make them laugh," Collier said. "They're just excited to see you there."
Collier did just that, taking a little girl who was barely big enough to shoot up to the 8-foot basket and asking her whether she wanted to dunk the ball. Collier lifted the youngster up to the rim for the slam, which was so exciting that the dynamic duo performed close to two dozen more dunks before they were done.
Again, not wanting any attention for her own trials, Collier didn't mention that less than two weeks ago she had surgery to remove the port her chemotherapy was administered through. The very same port she played her senior season with at Seattle Christian (SeaTac, Wash.).
"I have a different outlook on stuff now," Collier said. "You just want to make the kids so happy because this doesn't happen for them every day."
One of the West team's assistant coaches, Ellen O'Brien, who coaches at Downers Grove South (Ill.), also was captivated by Collier's energy with the kids.
"She just said, 'I feel good; I just get tired sometimes,'" O'Brien said while waiting for lunch near the end of the visit. "I couldn't believe it. She's amazing."
Collier is having an impact because she's not just saying the right things; she's doing them. Before making the trip to Chicago, she had a meet-and-greet event at the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle, where she has committed to being a regular volunteer.
"I'm really hoping I can volunteer and be down there before I go to [the University of Washington]," Collier said. "And [UW head coach] Kevin McGuff said he was going to get the whole team down there a lot to be with the kids going forward."
What Collier does admit to getting out of this is a small return to normalcy. But she continues to inspire people because that normal is just a little bit better now.
"It feels great that this didn't get in the way of my dreams," Collier said. "It didn't become a brick wall I couldn't bust through."
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He is a member of the McDonald's All-American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.