Two months ago, Summit County Council member Kim Carson was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She received the test results while on her way to a Truth in Taxation hearing, but didn't turn the car around. Although she was struggling with the emotional impact of her diagnosis, the seasoned elected official said, "I really wanted to hear what people had to say." She also admits the hearing provided a way to delay dealing with a frightening disease.
Carson said that in July, she noticed a small lump in her breast, about the size of a peppercorn. It was a busy month and she was tempted to ignore it but recalled a friend who had recently made a similar discovery and, because she followed up quickly, had been able to avoid a more invasive protocol.
"I had that in my mind and when I returned from Chicago in August and realized it was noticeably bigger, I went in and got it checked out," she said.
Carson underwent a biopsy at the Park City Medical Center and said "It snowballed from there." The biopsy revealed Carson has triple-negative breast cancer, a rare and aggressive form of the disease.
The next week, Carson and her husband immersed themselves into researching treatment alternatives.
Though she shared the news with her colleagues on the council, Carson wanted to delay publicizing it until her family had time to absorb the news. Telling her son and daughter she said, "was one of the hardest things I had to do."
Carson is now halfway through her chemotherapy, still maintains a busy meeting schedule and is turning her experience into an opportunity to encourage other women to schedule regular cancer screenings.
"I want to be that friend in someone else's ear," said Carson adding, "Early detection has made all the difference in my prognosis."
Carson admits going through chemotherapy "has not been pleasant," and it takes a toll on her energy. After the chemo, she will have to undergo radiation treatment. But she is optimistic. "I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, we have a plan and I know I can handle it."
In the meantime, Carson, adorned with a headscarf, still takes an active role on the council where she has only missed a couple of meetings. On one occasion she was able to attend via Skpe. "One day I had surgery in the morning and didn't want to drive, so I Skyped in and felt very productive," she said.
Carson highlights support from her book club, the Dog Ears, and her Bunco group and adds that fellow council members have also been "incredibly supportive."
Her grown children, Scott and Jenny, have rallied to her side. Jenny, a community health nurse in Chicago, and Scott, a bioengineering student, she said, have been especially proactive. And Carson underscored, "My husband has truly been my rock."
But Carson has also found strength from a new group of friends other local cancer survivors. "They are a great source of information. It's my new sisterhood," she said.
Carson is confident that she is headed toward a full recovery and believes early detection was key. And she hopes to pass that lesson along. That means: scheduling annual exams, following up with biopsies, ultrasounds and MRIs "even if it seems scary." She also encourages those whose families include a history of cancer, to pursue DNA testing.
"If one person follows up and schedules a mammogram or has a lump checked because of me, it will be worthwhile," she said.
A press release issued by the Summit County Council that ties Carson's efforts to the nationwide Breast Cancer Awareness Month initiative, lists these additional resources: