Jackie Collins lived with breast cancer battle in private for more than six years – revealing she did not want a wave of public sympathy or to be defined by her illness.
In a wide-ranging and emotional interview just six days before her death, the 77-year-old best-selling writer told PEOPLE’s Elizabeth Leonard exactly why she chose to keep her diagnosis a secret from family and friends.
Having told only her children – Tracy, Tiffany and Rory – Collins stressed: “I didn’t want to make it public and I didn’t want people’s sympathy. I don’t live my life that way. I like to be in control and so I took control of the situation.”
Brave and optimistic, Collins was still writing up until her death on Saturday morning in Los Angeles and had been penning her autobiography.
“I did it my way, as Frank Sinatra would say. I’ve written five books since the diagnosis, I’ve lived my life, I’ve traveled all over the world, I have not turned down book tours and no one has ever known until now when I feel as though I should come out with it,” said Collins, whose treatments over the years included a lumpectomy, radiation and various drug courses and combinations.
Ultimately, Collins said she was making her illness public to prompt women to get regular checkups and to save lives.
She confessed she was aware of a lump in her breast two years before she went to see a doctor. Speaking from her Beverly Hills home, she said: “Always get it checked. And the sooner the better. That is the best advice I can give.”
Collins, a practicing Buddhist, said she was not afraid of death, adding: “Death is peaceful and maybe you come back as something and maybe you don’t.”
She added: “I want on my gravestone, ‘She gave a great deal of people a great deal of pleasure.’ ”
Memorial services in both the United States and the United Kingdom will be held privately. The Collins family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Organization (in the U.S.) and Penny Brohn Cancer Care (in the U.K.).
For more of Jackie Collins’ final interview and photo shoot – and for interviews with her daughters – please pick up PEOPLE, on stands on Friday