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Senator owes her survival to early detection

For years as a legislator, Susan Kent has been an advocate at the State Capitol on behalf of the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network and the Healthy Kids Coalition. She has attended three Relay For Life events.

A short time before a public speaking engagement for ASC CAN, the DFL state senator from Woodbury was diagnosed with cancer, underwent surgery and treatment, was proclaimed cancer free, and went back to work. At the time she agreed to speak to volunteers, she didn't know she had breast cancer.

Kent's fourth visit to Relay For Life South Washington County will be as the event's 2016 Honorary Survivor. She will speak during the survivor ceremony, which begins at 6:15 p.m. Friday, June 10, at the East Ridge High School track, 4200 Pioneer Drive in Woodbury. Her speech will be followed by the Survivor Victory Lap.

"When I go to Relay this year, it's going to be a little different," Kent said. "It will be more meaningful than ever for me."

Kent, 52, was diagnosed with cancer in late 2015.

She had "very minor surgery," she said, and the results—success!—came back in a few days. She underwent four weeks of radiation, a treatment that ended one week before the Minnesota Legislature reconvened in March.

Kent found she could do her job as a senator to the fullest extent of her responsibility.

Medical oncologists will attempt to manage or—better yet—eliminate any tumor, a common treatment for breast cancer. She's been prescribed medication for hormonal therapy, meant to alters estrogen levels and limit growths.

That hormonal therapy is even available, Kent said, is "in large part due to the work of ACS."

She told ACS CAN volunteers in February: "I keep catching myself thinking and saying, 'I'm so lucky' that it was detected early.

"But we all know that it ain't luck.

"It is a very real result of very hard, very good work by all of you here, and your counterparts around the country, and those who have come before you over so many years. It is a result of donations, of advocacy for legislation and for funding, and of spreading the word to others, including people like me ..."

Those involved with the American Cancer Society have influenced her to take her health seriously, she said, and she owes her survival to regular mammograms, which resulted in early detection of a tumor.

Last winter, staff at the doctor's office called after one appointment, asking for Kent to come back to the office. She was a little annoyed. When she spoke with a doctor by phone, the doctor personally double checked the results of Kent's mammogram, then called back.

"She said, 'There is something there that wasn't there a year ago,' and I went, 'Whoa!'" Kent said.

Another mammogram led to a biopsy and then diagnosis, surgery and treatment.

"Everything was as little as it could be and as painless as it could be," Kent said. "I am blessed to have had a pretty easy road."

She knows that not everyone's plight is as "minimal" as hers, Kent said. This weekend, she will be speaking to a crowd that has experienced or knows and cares about someone who has experienced tragedy in the face of cancer, as well as survival. Kent believes it's important for her to emphasize the role early detection played in her case, she said.

Her scenario played out for two weeks—with minimal surgery, minimal radiation and no chemotherapy. One coping strategy was to avoid delving into the vast amount of information about cancer she could've found on the Internet and allowing other life struggles to distract her from "examining all the possibilities," she said. Her mother-in-law died and her niece birthed a premature baby.

"We had a good family Christmas in spite of an awful lot of challenges," Kent said.

The family talked about the "sucky stuff they'll go through" due to a cancer diagnosis, Kent said, but also that they think they can get through it together.

On the day of her speech in front of ACS CAN volunteers, Kent went public by calling the Woodbury Bulletin and sharing posts on social media, the latter of which she described as feeling weird.

But because of her Facebook posts, people booked mammogram appointments, which Kent said was the intended purpose.

Her speech in front of ACS CAN volunteers was at a pep rally of sorts, Kent said, helping them organize for lobbying and fundraising. It was a fitting place for her to publicly mention her successful bout with cancer.

Efforts on behalf of the American Cancer Society make a difference, Kent said. Her role mirrors that of many other survivors who work hard for a cure to cancer.

"It's not a club anyone wants to join, but I'm proud to be a member," Kent said.