Kim Carson has spun a lot of tunes in her career as a radio DJ, but after a colon cancer diagnosis several years ago, it was her own life that was spinning out of control.
After her first colonoscopy in 2009, the results came back suspicious. Her doctor ordered a biopsy.
Then came the moments Carson will never forget.
“I was doing the ‘Afternoon Drive Show’ (for WLHT-FM),” Carson said. “My doctor called me when I was on the air. He said, ‘Well … we got the results back and you have colon cancer.’ Nobody can ever be prepared to hear those words.”
‘Cancer, cancer, cancer’
This is a title that didn’t match her play list. There is no family history. No symptoms.
She drove home, her life rattled. Her mind reverberated like a record stuck in place—“cancer, cancer, cancer, cancer, cancer.” Her mom was the only one she told.
“I remember I pulled down my street and I saw all these little kids all over my grass and driveway,” said Carson, who now is the mid-day personality on WLAV-FM. “I parked my car, went inside and got my video camera. I don’t know why I did this.”
When she asked the kids what they were doing, they said they were “beautifying” her driveway. She looked down to see colorful chalk rainbows, balloons, flowers and the words “God loves you.”
“At that point, I knew I was going to be OK,” she said. “I just knew it. I had such a sense of peace.”
She didn’t see any of those kids for another three years.
“When I saw one of the girls, who is now about 15, I asked if she remembered doing that. Smiling, she said, ‘Yes.’ I told her, ‘I just want to let you know that God used you that day,’ and I told her the story that a few hours earlier I had been diagnosed with cancer.”
After the diagnosis, a surgery date opened up several days later.
“Somebody canceled three or four days later,” said Carson, now 55. “I was running all over the city getting X-rays and blood tests done so I could do the surgery.”
She’ll never forget her surgery date: June 25, 2009.
“When I went in for surgery, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson were alive,” she recalled. “When I came out, they were dead.”
Her surgeon removed 24 lymph nodes.
“Praise God there was no cancer that had spread,” Carson said.
But something did spread for the long-time radio host—her faith, her belief in miracles and her self-imposed mandate to spread her message to others, using her radio platform to do so.
“So many wonderful things came out of it,” Carson said. “I wouldn’t trade that experience, ever. It changed my life. It made me realize I don’t have unlimited time on this earth and if there’s something you want to do, you better do it now.”
Early detection is key
A colonoscopy certainly wasn’t at the top of Carson’s bucket list in 2009. It was a fluke that she got one at age 48. Most doctors recommend a first colonoscopy at age 50.
But Carson had been battling a boil of some sort on her buttocks that year. As long as she would be under treatment for that, her doctor suggested she also get a colonoscopy. Sure, she thought to herself, why not?
That decision could have saved her life.
Nadav Dujovny, MD, a Spectrum Health Medical Group colo-rectal surgeon, said early detection was key.
“She’s doing great,” Dr. Dujovny said. “She had a very early cancer, stage 1.”
The prognosis is like a Top 10 hit—the five-year survival rate is 90-95 percent.
“She’s already beaten that so she shouldn’t be at risk at all of having a recurrence (of colon cancer).”
Dr. Dujovny said colonoscopies can not only detect cancer, they can help prevent it.
“If you find the polyp and remove it, the polyp doesn’t grow into cancer,” he said. “Colon cancer is the most preventable one out there.”
Detecting cancer at stage 1 offers a great prognosis. If the cancer has reached stage 4, the survival rate dips to 8 percent five years out.
“It depends on the biology of the tumor, and each one is different, but it normally takes six to nine years for a polyp to grow up to become a cancer,” Dr. Dujovny said. “Once it’s cancer, we don’t know how quickly it will grow.”
Spreading the word
Carson donated tissue for research. She talked about her experiences on the radio. She didn’t want to hide behind the airwaves. She wanted to use her voice to spread the word that early detection is key.
“I’ve spoken to a few women’s groups about it,” Carson said. “I’ve had people tell me they didn’t know women got colon cancer. There’s a lot of ignorance out there. Women are sometimes caught so late because oftentimes it does not present with symptoms. I didn’t lose weight. There were no signs, pain or anything. That’s why people die from it.”
Dr. Dujovny said he appreciates Carson helping to get the word out.
“Any part anyone can do is great,” he said.
Besides the “50th birthday present colonoscopy” recommendation, African-American men, anyone with a family history of colon cancer, or those with bleeding or a change of bowel habits and should submit to early screening.
Because of Carson’s public position and her cancer being divulged on a national program, she said thousands of people across the country floated prayers her way. Her relationship with God gained depth and breadth.
“I talked about my cancer on the radio and it was all over the news,” Carson said. “I would get emails from all over the place. People would say they were praying for me. I felt it. I just felt it. I really haven’t felt that kind of peace, ever. I wish I could be in that place all the time.”
“Today” took a stronger stance in her vocabulary than “tomorrow.”
“I remember lying in the hospital thinking that if I died, my only legacy would be radio,” she said. “At that moment I made the decision that whatever I kept saying I was going to do later was going to change. Tomorrow is never promised. The next hour is not promised.”
Through all the fear, turmoil and uncertainty, Carson said she tried to surround herself with positive people—and be a positive influence on others.
“I have a platform here,” she said. “I’m not going to go through all this without somebody getting something out of this.”