Carolee Morris, like many women, initially wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. She started college, essentially to find a suitably educated husband, but then she wanted to have children and raise them as was culturally expected.
“When I was a little girl,” Morris said, “your role in life was almost a given.” You attend high school, then college to find a mate, and then you raise your children.
And it wasn’t as though she didn’t love her two children. She did. She just wanted more because she found the life of a homemaker unfulfilling.
“I didn’t want to continue working 40 hours a week at PTA, bowling and coffee klatches,” Morris, now 72, said.
So she returned to school to become a teacher. She managed her coursework so she was at home when her children arrived home from school. Eight years later, Morris finished her degree and began teaching junior high.
Morris’ husband, local artist Donn, was also a teacher at the time, and so the career fit in well with the family.
Morris worked and took care of the family’s money. “I knew we wanted to travel,” she said. “I’m a saver. I invested wisely,” — or luckily, she adds.
But in Morris’ last year of teaching, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She and Donn had already bought their Payson home and planned to retire here from California.
“It was almost not a thought, like a sinking feeling — now I have to deal with this,” Morris said about her diagnosis.
Doctors caught the lump early in a mammogram, and Morris underwent a lumpectomy, seven weeks of radiation, and subsequent doses of Tamoxifen, a pill that interferes with estrogen production and helps to prevent recurrence of cancer.
The cancer was caught so early that Morris recalled the doctor told her, “You have a little cancer.”
She replied, “That’s like being a little pregnant.”
After recovering from surgery for three weeks, Morris returned to work during her radiation treatments and didn’t miss one day. Fatigue hit, but she would rest at home, after school.
“It tires you out,” Morris said. “I’m not sure if it was the radiation or the teaching.”
She added, “I was proud that I could continue my work and finish that school year.”
Sixteen years later, Morris has remained cancer-free.
“It was probably one of the best things that ever happened,” she said. The brush with mortality softened her heart and made her more emotional. She now cries at movies and finds herself more appreciative of life.
She also learned the importance of taking care of herself.
Every day she does something meaningful — even if it’s just working out at Curves.
She also attends a local breast cancer support group to help the newly diagnosed, and also volunteers with the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery Program, which offers emotional support and information to people faced with the disease.
Luckily, Morris conquered the cancer and disease did not derail plans to travel in retirement. The first trip the couple took was back east to see the fall foliage — the trip she says every teacher wants to take, but cannot because school starts in fall.
Since then, the Morrises have played with penguins in Antarctica, saw artwork by Michelangelo in Italy, and had elephants charge at them in Africa.
Early in retirement, the couple took the “big trips” with the long plane rides when they knew they could both handle the flight and would have their health to enjoy the trip.
“When you’re young, you can handle those 15-hour flights,” Morris said.
She likes to take photographs, and one of her pictures took second place at the Northern Gila County Fair. The picture — of her husband sketching a bust in the Louvre — is framed along with the $2 prize check she won.
Surrounding the photograph are more pictures of her children — a daughter who lives in California and a son who teaches school in Trout Creek, Mont. The Morrises recently traveled with six other couples in RVs to Montana to see their son and explore the Rocky Mountains.
Occasionally, the couple visits San Clemente, Calif., where they own a condominium too small to live in full-time. Morris loves the ocean, and they visit about three times each year. “I never get tired of that,” she said.
She cooks in her kitchen, where all the appliances are red because Morris loves red. She cooks soup and mostly everything except cakes because she doesn’t bake. In retirement, you get to do what you want to do — and the ultimate chance to make it meaningful.