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CANCER BENEFIT — Carolyn Dittmer will host a Light the Night... (Elva K. sterreich/Daily News)

Carolyn Dittmer was born in Albuquerque. After graduating from Manzano High School in Albuquerque, she headed for Wayland Baptist College in Painview, Texas, commonly known to the students as "Wedding Bell College."

Sure enough, it was at Wayland she met Alamogordo native Edward Chris Dittmer Jr., who's father had trained the space chimps, Ham and Enos.

Today, Carolyn and Ed have 34 years of marriage behind them and many more in front.

Ed joined the military and the young couple went to England. When they came back, it was to Ed's home, the Tularosa Basin.

In 1978 Carolyn got a job at Albany Medical College, which owned the chimpanzee research facility on Holloman Air Force Base. She is a medical technologist who has been working at Lincoln County Medical Center since 1997. Ed works on White Sands Missile Range, at a contract radar facility.

Since 2002, Carolyn has seen the medical profession from another perspective. She has leukemia hairy cell leukemia. She laughs at the irony of the name.

"My maiden name is Haire," she said. "It used to be called haire cell leukemia."

Carolyn also remembers when she was working on her training at New Mexico State University-Alamogordo. She once looked at a slide of

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a hairy cell, actually a white blood cell with hair-like projections.

"I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen," Carolyn said. "And then many years later I would have it. I tell my students, ŒDon't ever make fun of any diseases that you see in this class. Payback is hell.'"

Humor is Carolyn's vehicle for moving forward. Sometimes she can be spotted in a T-shirt which reads, "May all your hairy cells go bald."

After going for a routine physical and complete blood count in April 2003, doctors found Carolyn had a low white blood count.

"My CBC looked like a sick person, but I felt very good," she said.

After going through a battery of follow-up tests, the last thing left to do was a bone marrow biopsy. But because bone marrow biopsies have a reputation for pain and discomfort, and because she didn't feel unusually bad, Carolyn put off the test ... for two and a half years.

"It was kind of OK, because it is a slow growing cancer," she said.

Symptoms for the disease are not clearly defined. She sometimes felt tired, had night sweats and other symptoms. But they were consistent with menopause, which she is also facing.

"They're not outstanding symptoms, they're vague," Carolyn said.

In October of 2005, Carolyn spent five days undergoing two-hour infusions of chemotherapy.

"It wasn't terrible," she said. But it was painful. "You end up with a lot of bone cells killed."

The disease is rare, Carolyn said. Only two percent of leukemias are hairy celled. That comes to about 600 people in the United States.

But she found a chat room run by a man in California where people from all over the world with hairy cell leukemia provide information and support each other. It is a place Carolyn found friendship through tough times.

"When you are having chemo, everyone is giving you support," she said.

After her experiences, Carolyn felt like she wanted to do something to support those who were going through similar experiences. She began raisin money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by managing a virtual tea party on the Web. She raised $450 for the group.

Carolyn discovered the society has a Light The Night fundraising walk event in the city where she was born in late September. She wanted to support the event, so she and her family have formed Team Dittmer, to take part in the walk. They are holding their own fundraising event for the cause on Saturday.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society invited her to be listed as one of their Honored Patients.

So on Saturday, at Coffee & More in Tularosa, John, SKY and Ed (Dittmer) will be providing the music for a Light the Night Benefit Evening, which will include a silent auction, door prizes and original poetry readings.

Coffee & More owner Tony Wedig said he would donate the profits from any food and beverage sales during the evening.

"The silent auction includes everything from a propane torch to fine art," Carolyn said.

There are items valued from $10 to $800, she said, including a signed and professionally framed poster by Native American artist Stan Natchez.

"The majority of the leukemia patients are children," Carolyn said of her motive for the event. "We need a cure. Children shouldn't have to go through it."