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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Teacher's second fight with cancer

BY COURTNEY LOONEY
Eagle correspondent

One voice resonates through the halls at Pleasant Valley Middle School as students hurry to their next class. Kelli Frazier jokes and laughs with those who walk by.

"Mrs. Frazier is more than just a teacher to us," said eighth-grader Paige Nichols. "She's a friend, too."

Without seeing Kelli Frazier, no one would know she is fighting for her life. Not for the first time, either.

In 2006, Frazier was diagnosed with breast cancer. She completed eight rounds of chemotherapy and 35 rounds of radiation and was in remission three years later.

In January, Frazier, 43, saw a doctor for a sinus infection. That eventually led to a biopsy after doctors discovered a spot on her lung.

"It threw me into a tailspin," she said.

Her new diagnosis: recurrent breast cancer that had spread to a lung and the bones.

This time, her diagnosis is different.

"This is not curable," she said. "This time it's not a matter of if — it's when."

Battling the disease

Frazier is undergoing treatment and will finish in July. She said she is willing to participate in clinical trials, but as of now, none are available.

While she is battling the disease, Frazier is carrying on her life.

During her first illness, Frazier had just completed her teaching certification as well as a bachelor's degree in history. After many years in the advertising business, Frazier had decided she wasn't happy.

"There was a hole missing for me," she said. "It was a process of reinventing myself."

While continuing to teach, Frazier will graduate in May with a master's degree in education.

Three years into the teaching business, Frazier has significantly affected those around her.

"Kelli is proactive and very caring," said Tawnya Berlin, a co-worker. "She works hard to help her students be successful. She will put in the extra time to make phone calls or conference personally with her students. She is inspiring."

Frazier's attitude rubs off on others.

"When she told us she was sick, I raised my hand and asked, 'How long do you have?' " Paige recalled. "She told me she had 2 to 2 1/2 years, but that is the average.

"Then she said to me, 'But when have you known me to be average?' And she's right, because she's strong."

The idea of having an average of less than three years to live doesn't scare her, Frazier said.

"Statistics are numbers, and numbers aren't people," she said. "I have two choices. I can attack it, or roll over and die. I'm staying as positive as possible."

Making the best

With a strong support system, Frazier said the constant strength behind her is uplifting.

"My mom has always been a fixer, not a blamer," she said. "The idea is that there is no alternative. Things are the way they are. You can choose to be weak, or you can make the best of what you've got."

As she has been evaluating her life, Frazier said she would love to go back to Paris and Hawaii, but mostly just wants to spend time with the ones she loves.

"Everyone deals with the situation differently, but I think I have helped them all learn how to place importance on their kids, jobs and everything that matters to them," she said. "In a sense, it's a blessing."

Frazier said she remembers a time in 2006 when she was with a close friend who helped her come to terms with her illness.

"My friend said to me, 'I think that God chooses people for stuff like this,' " she said. "I think that's a good way to look at it.

"I could sit there and say, 'Why me?' But it will never change anything. I just want to be as good of a person as I can be."

Frazier said she doesn't strive to be anyone's hero, but it doesn't hurt to be positive.

"I want all people to do the things they love," she said. "In the long run, you don't want to miss an opportunity. I have learned the little things don't matter as much anymore, (like) cleaning the house."

Although her disease has made her realize what is important in life, Frazier said she has always valued her family and friends the most.

"I always made those kinds of choices," she said. "I want what most people want in life — to see my nephews and nieces graduate, get married and have kids. That may not happen, but as long as they know I love them, I can do this."

Living her life

Going skydiving or backpacking through Europe are not on Frazier's bucket list, but she does have a few wishes.

"I would like to go horseback riding, and go white-water rafting again while I'm in Breckenridge with my family this summer," she said. "I know I may not be able to go rafting, but it's all about being with family, and that's where I want to be."

Her final wish is to be able to see the first class of students she taught graduate from high school in two years.

Frazier said she continues to live her life just as she would before, with an added feeling of living each day to the fullest.

"If I get up mad at the world, I don't have a lot of opportunity that day," she said. "I don't think I'm smarter than anyone else because of the things I have gone through. I have just learned to take chances and realize there are worse things in the world.

"Everybody's got something they're going through. The coolest thing for me is knowing I have made an impact on people. Maybe that means I am living my life the right way."

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