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'For better or for worse': Fargo couple both diagnosed with cancer in span of 4 months

Paula and Keith Kolle talk Wednesday, April 24, in West Fargo about the two of them battling cancer at the same time. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor 1 / 2
Paula Kolle has a breast cancer ribbon decorating one of her finger nails Wednesday, April 24, in West Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor 2 / 2

FARGO — Paula and Keith Kolle do everything together.

The Fargo couple of 28 years enjoy trips to the lakes area in the summer and escape winters with Arizona getaways. But they could have never guessed that they would be battling cancer together.

"We didn't really choose to do this together," Paula said. "I shouldn't say easier, but you know what each other are going through, and it's an easier journey."

Looking back on their journey, Keith thinks of May 18, 2002, when the couple took their vows at the former St. John's Church at Bonanzaville.

"For better or for worse. We've had a lot of better, but this is the worse .... We couldn't do it without each other," he said tearfully.

Despite their trying circumstances, the Kolles laugh a lot. It's a testament to the old saying that laughter is the best medicine.

Last year in the span of four months, the Kolles were both diagnosed with cancer.

A case of pneumonia sent Keith, 73, to Sanford Health. Then on July 13, he was told he had acute myeloid leukemia. He was hospitalized for 37 days and started chemotherapy. He's continued with three-day rounds of hospitalized chemo about every five weeks, with visits to the Roger Maris Cancer Center almost daily.

He calls it "Roger's house," and the port implanted in his right arm since July is his "tire patch" for gas and oil.

RELATED STORY: Sanford investing over $100M to make Roger Maris Cancer Center a 'destination' for treatment

Paula, 61, said because of her husband's personality and tendency to crack jokes, the staff at Roger Maris already knew her by the time she also had to seek treatment there.

Too busy with caring for Keith last summer and working at Bell Bank in West Fargo, where she's worked for nearly 40 years, Paula said she put off her annual physical.

In October, she went to Sanford and there was "no indication of anything being wrong," she said. But soon she was informed of an abnormal mammogram. After more testing, she was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer on Nov. 16.

Keith described the back-to-back diagnoses as "unbelievable."

"You can have all the money in the world, but if you ain't got your health, you ain't got a darn thing," he said. "Our attitude is good. People give us good comments, and that's worth a million."

After two surgeries in December, Paula recently wrapped up the chemotherapy she started in January. She began radiation last week, and now the couple is on the "next and final steps," she said, adding that so far treatments are succeeding.

"I used to be a planner, looking out way ahead, but you gotta be day to day," she said.

To offset the medical bills piling up, a benefit for the Kolles is slated for Friday, April 26, at West Fargo's VFW, 444 Sheyenne St.

The theme of the benefit is "no one fights alone." There will be a silent auction and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m.

Contributions can also be made online at www.lendahandup.org or at any Bell Bank location, payable to the Kolle Benefit Fund.

If you go

What: Fundraiser for Paula and Keith Kolle

Where: West Fargo's VFW, 444 Sheyenne St.

When: 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 26

How to help: Donate at any Bell Bank location or online at www.lendahandup.org, payable to the Kolle Benefit Fund.

Kim Hyatt

Kim Hyatt is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth. She started her newspaper career at the Owatonna People’s Press covering arts and education. In 2016, she received Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award and later that year she joined The Forum newsroom.

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