Fremd alum, 34, dies of cancer months after stem cell transplant

 
 
Updated 10/31/2017 2:01 PM
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  • A few months before he died, Aaron Lee poses in front of the birthday cards sent to him by his Fremd High School friends and members of the Beth Tikvah congregation in Hoffman Estates. Lee died of cancer Oct. 21, at age 34.

    A few months before he died, Aaron Lee poses in front of the birthday cards sent to him by his Fremd High School friends and members of the Beth Tikvah congregation in Hoffman Estates. Lee died of cancer Oct. 21, at age 34. Photo courtesy of Naomi Lee

  • Aaron Lee poses for a photo earlier this year, when he was briefly healthy enough to be able to return to work.

    Aaron Lee poses for a photo earlier this year, when he was briefly healthy enough to be able to return to work. Photo courtesy of Naomi Lee

  • Aaron Lee, who grew up in Inverness, was remembered for his big smile and happy personality. The Fremd graduate died of cancer Oct. 21, at age 34.

    Aaron Lee, who grew up in Inverness, was remembered for his big smile and happy personality. The Fremd graduate died of cancer Oct. 21, at age 34.

  • Fremd High School alumnus Aaron Lee died of cancer Oct. 21 at age 34.

    Fremd High School alumnus Aaron Lee died of cancer Oct. 21 at age 34.

A memorial service will be held Nov. 12 in Hoffman Estates for Fremd High School alumnus Aaron Lee, who died last week at age 34.

Lee, who grew up in Inverness, battled a rare form of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma for the past year and died Oct. 21. It was seven months to the day after he'd received a stem cell transplant.

Last year, hundreds of people turned out for a stem cell drive held on his behalf at Beth Tikvah Congregation in Hoffman Estates in hopes of finding a match -- something that was a challenge due to his rare biracial heritage, being half-Chinese, half-Ashkenazi Jewish. Additional drives were held in California, where he lived.

Aaron Lee, who grew up in Inverness, received a stem cell transplant earlier this year.
Aaron Lee, who grew up in Inverness, received a stem cell transplant earlier this year. -

A few days before he died, Lee texted his parents from his home to say he had a great day, but that he felt tired. The next day, he ended up back in the hospital and died the following day, with 20 of his friends and his girlfriend at his bedside.

"He really fought, and he fought through a lot. He never said, 'I can't take it anymore.' He said, 'I have to fight harder.' To the end. He wanted to live so badly," said his mother, Naomi Lee, of Inverness.

Aaron Lee was the middle child of three boys. After graduating from Fremd, he studied linguistics at UCLA and Northwestern University, and became a scholar of many languages. He returned to UCLA to earn his MBA, and remained in southern California.

Until he got sick, Lee worked as a health innovation consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and Kaiser Permanente. At his most recent position with the KP Health Innovation Studio, he worked on complex problems to help doctors take care of their patients and enjoyed mentoring colleagues. A Facebook friend recalled how he'd energize co-workers by walking into the innovation studio and say, "Good morning, innovators!"

Aaron Lee, poses with his parents Al and Naomi Lee, of Inverness.
Aaron Lee, poses with his parents Al and Naomi Lee, of Inverness. - Photo courtesy of the Lee family

His mom joked that he was Jewish and Buddhist and "took the best parts of both." She added that her son was active in local and online Buddhist communities, traveled the world, and served as an inspiration to many.

"He put an awful lot into his 34 years," his mother said. "He was always happy. He had a big smile from the time he was little."

Aaron Lee also was known for his patience, his laughter, his sweet tooth, his excellent listening skills, and his compassion for people. Whenever his health took a bad turn, he always worried that his parents would be OK if he didn't survive.

He is survived by his parents, Naomi and Al Lee; girlfriend Susanna Lin; and brothers Alan and Andrew Lee.

A memorial service was held Sunday at Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California, and his ashes will be scattered in the San Francisco Bay on Nov. 5.

Another memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12, at the Beth Tikvah Congregation in Hoffman Estates.

In lieu of flowers, donations to a memorial GoFundMe fund are requested to help support Aaron's favorite causes, https://www.gofundme.com/remembering-aaron-lee.

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