Success Stories

Leah Watkins (Lake Region Healthcare Cancer Care & Research Center) Photo

Leah Watkins (Lake Region Healthcare Cancer Care & Research Center)

I moved to the Fergus Falls area to begin my life with my new husband. The experts say that marriage is a major life change. Little did I know that I was in for several major life changes in the years ahead. Several months before I moved to Bemidji, MN, I stopped into the Workforce Center in Fergus Falls to get a feel for the employment situation in the area. I knew that finding a "good job" can take time and effort as well as being in the right place at the right time.

I moved to the Fergus Falls area in 2005 and located a full time position working for a company called Detail at Retail. This was a retail company that provided electrical service in Home Depot stores. It was not something I had done before but it was a full time job. I had health insurance and I have always enjoyed learning new things. My husband worked as a carpenter and his work would often depend on the weather and the economy. We relied on my steady income. A little over two years after I started my job, I received the news that the company I was working for was going out of business. I would have no health insurance, no steady income and would need to start looking for a job in an economy that was getting worse while I was getting no younger.

Back to the Workforce Center I went. I needed a job and was using every avenue I could think of to find work. I was speaking with the receptionist who relayed to me that I may be eligible for the displaced workers program and she put me in touch with a worker named Michelle. While I started the process of redoing my resume and looking for work, I did follow up with the application for the displaced workers program. I was happy to find that I was accepted.

My contact person at CEP was Michelle Foreman. A decision was made that I would return to school for a 2 year program in the growing field of health information. My job had ended in late May 2005, and I was getting prepared to start school the end of August. We worked out a career choice based on interest assessments, what academic programs qualified, what the local job outlook was for the area, as well as paring past job experience to the new career. I chose to enter the Health Information Technician program at North Dakota State College of Science in Wapheton, ND.

Returning to school was intimidating. I would need to do some driving and continue to look for part time work. I was not confident that I could do a good job at school and work at the same time. I did find a part time job at the local hospital which I hoped would assist me in finding employment after I completed my education. A detailed plan was developed with goals to achieve within a specific time frame.

I cannot tell you all the things that my work, Michelle, gave and did for me. She set workable, achievable goals. She was able to give me a direction and the tools to use to get to the end goal. Perhaps an overlooked area of supportive services is the one on one support and encouragement she gave me when I was unsure, encountering problems, or just needing a pat on the back. Michelle deserves to be recognized for a job well done.

There were a number of services that made it possible for me to finish the course set before me. One of the services that made it possible for me to succeed in a new career was paid tuition and books. There was no way that I could have worked enough to pay for my education as well as pay bills. Even more basic and needed to the education component were the support services I received in keeping my car running. I had a decent car but I had many miles to travel to school and work. I worried about getting safely to and from school and had issues with the car that needed occasional repairs. I was so thankful for the service that assisted with automotive repairs. I believe that being a part of the dislocated workers program with on-the-job training funds gave me an edge on getting the job.

Graduation came and went. Despite several interviews, I was not able to secure work. I kept my part time job and made plan A, plan B, and plan C. I knew that Lake Region Healthcare was planning to open a brand new cancer center in Fergus Falls. I applied for a position as a Tumor Registrar. Of course I was sure that there would be many applications. This was a dream job and of course there were folks who were a lot more qualified that I.

I found out just before Christmas that I had the job! What a gift. I was the new Tumor Registrar at the Lake Region Healthcare Cancer Care and Research Center. There were many times when I had to pinch myself to really believe that I had the job. This job was above and beyond what I had ever expected for myself.

My job includes two very important features. One is to gather and enter data into a database system. information such as the type of tumor, where it is, the stage of cancer, how it was treated, how well the treatment worked, as well as many other pieces of information. This information is gathered by all of the cancer centers in the state which have a registry. All states then send information to the national database where the information can show what types of treatment works best for which type of cancer at which stage. This information is given back tot he cancer centers and physicians so that they can use treatment and protocols that work best in the treatment of cancer. This impacts everyone who has had or will get cancer - family, your neighbors, and your friends. The second feature is to follow up with any one who has had cancer for the rest of their life. This is to make sure that the physicians are checking with them on a regular basis, finding out what types of treatment they are receiving if any, and other bits of information. The best way to beat cancer is early detection and to have effective treatments.

I am thrilled and honored to be a Tumor Registrar. I am excited to go to work and be a small part of something so big that will benefit people beyond my lifetime.

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908 S Cascade St
Fergus Falls, MN 56537
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