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'Little Fighter' battles cancer

Carla Wheeler, who was recently diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, receives her second chemo treatment at the Dougals County Hospital. (Celeste Edenloff | Echo Press)1 / 2
Carla Wheeler, who was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, poses for a family shot with her husband, Chris; 5-year-old son, Cylis; and 2-month-old son, Conrad. Dairy Queen South will host a benefit on Thursday, Dec. 15. (Contributed)2 / 2

When she was a little girl participating in tae kwon do, Carla Wheeler's instructor gave her the nickname, "Little Fighter."

Who knew how much that nickname would mean so many years later?

The Alexandria wife and mother, who is the manager of the Dairy Queen on Broadway, is now fighting the battle of a lifetime.

On Nov. 11, Wheeler was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer that has spread to her liver.

Although she has had a few ups and downs since her diagnosis, her mother, Deb Tangeman, said Wheeler is "so positive and her spirits are high. She has a kick-butt attitude and is definitely a little fighter."

Wheeler, who gave birth to her second son, Conrad, on Oct. 3 said this pregnancy was much different than the first time around. Wheeler and her husband, Chris, who works at Juettner Motors in Alexandria, are also parents to 5-year-old Cylis, who is a kindergartner at Woodland Elementary School.

This time around, Wheeler said she was sick throughout the entire pregnancy.

"I threw up a lot and I was always tired," she said. "And then, I almost passed out."

At first, everyone, including her doctors, just dismissed the symptoms as morning sickness or sickness related to the pregnancy.

Then, while working at the Dairy Queen one day in early August, Wheeler wasn't feeling the best and that's when she almost passed out. A coworker brought her to the clinic to see what was going on. Bloodwork revealed that her hemoglobin numbers were about half of what they should be and so at about 34 weeks pregnant, Wheeler ended up having a blood transfusion.

The next morning, she was back at the clinic and her numbers were low again, so she had to have yet another transfusion.

At this point, there was no talk of cancer, but Wheeler's hemoglobin numbers were not right and had to be continuously monitored. The numbers continued to be low, but nothing could be done, said Wheeler. On a positive note, the doctors were not concerned about her baby and reassured the Wheelers that he was fine.

"At that point, my only concern was him. I didn't care about me," Wheeler said.

Wheeler's planned C-section was scheduled for Oct. 3. And unlike her first birth, which she called "a breeze," this one was rough and she was in a lot of pain.

"But he was healthy. He is healthy. So, so healthy," she said, grinning from ear to ear.

After her son was born, Wheeler's hemoglobin numbers were still too low and she was referred to the oncology department for more lab work, along with several other tests. Wheeler had a esophagogastroduodenoscopy, otherwise known as an EGD, which is where they put a camera down her throat. And she had a colonoscopy, as well. On Nov. 10, just a little over a month since her son was born, she was told it was more than likely cancer. The confirmation came the next day.

After the diagnosis, Wheeler scans revealed the cancer had already spread to her liver.

On Nov. 16, Wheeler received her port, which is a small disc about the size of a quarter that sits just under the skin. A small tube, or catheter, connects the port to a large vein, which makes it easier to administer chemo meds, as well as having blood drawn. The next day, Wheeler received her first chemo treatment. After four rounds, she will undergo another PET scan to see if the treatments are working. At that point, the next steps, which could include surgery, will be discussed.

Although her journey is just beginning, Wheeler said she has been amazed at all the support she has received, from not only family and friends, but from strangers.

"You don't really know, or don't really realize, how much people care about you until something like this happens," said Wheeler from her chair in the oncology department at the Douglas County Hospital. She was receiving her second treatment. "And people really do care."

Benefit planned

On Thursday, Dec. 15, Dairy Queen South, where Wheeler has worked for the past nine years, is going to donate 50 percent of all sales to the Wheeler family. A donation box has also been set up at the Dairy Queen for additional monetary or other donations. A silent auction will also take place on Dec. 15 at the restaurant. To donate an auction item, contact Craig at the Dairy Queen at (320) 763-4556. An account has been set up in Wheeler's name at BlackRidgeBank in Alexandria. And a GoFundMe page has been started for the Wheelers, as well. Visit the GoFundMe website at www.gofundme.com and type in "Carla Wheeler." Her campaign is titled, "Please Help Our Mommy, Carla Wheeler."

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in nearly 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

(320) 763-1242
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