After bestselling author Jackie Collins’ was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in 2009, she told her three daughters but otherwise stayed mum about her battle with the disease – until just days before her death Saturday at 77.
In her final, emotional interview, featured in this week’s cover story, Collins told PEOPLE exclusively about getting diagnosed only after a body scan for an unexplained limp revealed cancer that had already spread. She began treatment and continued to live her life just the way she wanted.
“I certainly don’t wake up in the morning and think, ‘Oh, I have terminal cancer,’ because I don’t,” she said. “I have a chronic disease. We’re all going to go at some time. I want people to see me as an example of strength – and doing things my way.”
Although the author kept her diagnosis private, she said embracing life and staying positive is crucial.
“Your mind controls your body, so you must,” she said.”If you have a positive attitude, you can conquer anything.”
Collins says she took it day by day when it came to her treatments, which included a lumpectomy, radiation and various drug combinations.
“That’s what you do,” she said. “It’s just been an incredible journey.”
For more on Jackie Collins, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
• Reporting by ELIZABETH LEONARD