Marco Collins sounds like the same upbeat music lover Seattleites have come to know through the airwaves. The beloved, longtime Seattle DJ is calling from Seattle Cancer Care Alliance where he’s undergoing his second round of chemotherapy. His voice doesn’t show it, but Collins is feeling like a four-letter word the FCC wouldn’t appreciate.
“This kind of thing creeps up on you so fast,” he says. “There’s no way to prepare yourself for this.”
Two months ago, the former music director at 107.7 The End and current KEXP DJ was diagnosed with testicular cancer. When doctors went in to remove the tumor, they discovered that the cancer had spread to his lower aorta. “I didn’t even know I had a damn lower aorta, dude,” Collins says.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame DJ caught it early and it’s one of the more treatable forms of cancer, he says. While doctors are “very optimistic,” the chemo has taken its toll. Collins’ body didn’t react well to the first round of treatment and an infection landed him in the hospital for nearly five days. Initially, Collins tried to continue hosting his KEXP show, but has since found himself physically unable to work.
Collins says he’s hardly had time to process the diagnosis, though the magnitude of it sunk in when he started losing his hair. “[A nurse] shaved my head and I looked in the mirror and at that point I just cried,” Collins says. “I was like ‘Oh, this is for real.’”
There’s never a good time for news like this, but things were going particularly well for the radio vet who became a tastemaker during Seattle’s grunge explosion. Collins, who has battled addiction over the years, was 611 days sober the day we spoke and had recently been offered a position at a nonprofit he “loves,” though he turned it down due to his health.
Collins has been a longtime booster of Seattle music, an early champion of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam in the ’90s to contemporaries like local indie-pop songwriter Left at London. Now the community he’s given so much of himself to over the years is returning the favor. Last week, two of Collins’ friends launched a GoFundMe campaign to help with medical expenses and other needs while he’s unable to work. As of this writing, the campaign had raised nearly $24,000, quickly blowing past its $15,000 goal.
“I’m a little embarrassed, but I’m super, super humbled and grateful,” Collins says. “It’s hard for me to react to because I get pretty emotional when I open up that account. That kind of support is just incredible and it’s really helping at a time that I need it.”
While he’s taking a break from his radio duties, don’t expect Collins to completely lie low. This year, Collins was charged with curating the music lineup for the June 8 Volunteer Park Pride Festival, featuring Seattle heavy hitters Thunderpussy, J GRGRY, Whitney Mongé, electro-soul mainstay SassyBlack and Left at London. Collins has timed his treatment so that he can still host the event before starting his third round of chemo the next day. It’s an honor he doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s the first time I feel like I’ve really given something back to the gay community,” he says. “I’m feeling pretty stoked about that, because for years and years and years I wasn’t out.”
It’s been a tough road and Collins has a ways to go, but he’s been keeping his head up listening to “a lot” of new music (of course). The outpouring of support he’s received has also provided a lift.
“Just reading some of the comments on the GoFundMe, I had no idea I had that kind of support here in this town,” Collins says. “When I open up some of those comments, I just get teary-eyed. That definitely makes the day here in the hospital a little more tolerable.”