Carla Lee is not a cancer victim.
That was one of the first things Lee said she would like for people to know about her. She's just a person who has cancer, she said, but it's not a big part of her life and not the big part of her.
She's from North Dakota, Wolford, to be exact, and grew up on a farm while attending a little country school where she took chemistry by correspondence. For college, Lee went to Minot State University for a four-year medical technologist degree and her first job was in Havre, Mont., where she worked for a short time until her husband proposed and moved back to Minot. Lee worked at Medical Arts Clinic for 25 years, which she loved, she said, because she got to talk to the patients and enjoyed that. When Medical Arts was sold to St. Joseph's Hospital, Lee said she worked in that hospital for a year, then worked for Trinity when they bought out St. Joseph's. Currently, Lee is working in the microbiology department, which she really likes, and works there two to three days a week.
Jill Hambek/MDN • Carla Lee, a medical technologist who is undergoing aggressive treatments for cancer, sits in her kitchen with her usual smile. Lee has been fighting cancer off and on for the past 14 years and has managed to keep her positive attitude and sense of humor.
"Trinity has been great," Lee said. "They've been great for working around my schedule."
The most enjoyable part of Lee's job, she remarked, is the contact she has with people, although she doesn't get much of that anymore. She really likes the microbiology department because what they do is like a puzzle, she added. "I really like my job and I really like my co-workers. I'm one of those annoying people."
Lee and her husband, Don, went through the 2011 flood and lost their house, one they had worked on and added on, and have since cleaned it up, she noted. The house is now a rental house and Lee and her husband have moved into the house belonging to Don's mother since she has moved to Manor Care.
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In her free time, Lee said she likes gardening and yard work, as well as getting together with her friends and family. A favorite activity is for her family and friends to get together and cook, she added.
Lee has been fighting cancer off and on for 14 years, since 1998. The first time she was diagnosed with breast cancer was the scariest because everything was so unknown, she said. She received remission of that cancer, only to have it re-occur in other areas. This second round of cancer has been the most aggressive and the most vicious, Lee remarked, and now it's in her liver.
"They don't try to kill the cancer now, they just try to stop it from spreading."
Currently, Lee is treated with two different chemotherapies simultaneously, and has been doing treatment continuously for a year. She goes to chemo once a week and also has lab work done once a week. A typical week consists of working and resting as well, she added. Lee and her husband are in the process of trying to fit big furniture from their flooded house into their current smaller house, she noted, but her weeks are mainly taken up with friends, work and yardwork.
"If I can be outside the house, I'm happy."
The most difficult part about having cancer and going through the treatments, Lee said, is resting. "I really hate the part about having to rest because then I have to admit there's something wrong," she remarked. Normally, Lee said she would also have projects she's working on, too, but now is not able to.
Throughout all of this, though, Lee has managed to maintain a positive attitude and uses humor to help her cope. She makes fun of everything cancer-related a lot, she noted, and sees no reason not to make fun of it. She also said she doesn't like negative people or hearing negative stories.
"I'm always positive and happy, for some reason, and I have down days, but not often," Lee remarked. "I have a great family and my friends are the greatest." Recently, Lee's friends decided to have a benefit to help defray the costs of her medical expenses. They had wanted to have one for awhile, she said, and recently talked her into it. She wanted to have the benefit when she was still well enough to attend and not too sick, Lee added.
"It's much easier to give than it is to receive, though," she remarked. "It's been very humbling and overwhelming. My friends are quite the bunch."
The benefit, held Sept. 16 at Bethany Lutheran Church, included a free will donation breakfast after the two church services, silent auction with over 100 items, bake sale, live music played by Lee's husband, games, and a raffle that will go to Nov. 1.
Lee suggested that people going through a similar battle look for positive people and support groups. "Get all the support you can. If you spread it out on all the shoulders, it's not so bad. Sharing with friends makes a huge difference."