This story was updated on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, at 5:41 p.m. with additional information.
State Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, who recently survived a life-threatening coronavirus infection, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Since returning home from the hospital in August, Carter has battled unexplained symptoms that he and his doctors believed were due to lingering effects of the virus.
Carter was undergoing tests in Nashville as a potential COVID-19 "long-hauler" — former coronavirus patients who experience a prolonged recovery — when a radiologist noticed an abnormality on his pancreas. Additional tests confirmed the cancer, and he's now receiving chemotherapy through Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
"I had a severe battle with COVID — so I don't want to take anything away from that — I just had a double dose and didn't know it," Carter said, adding that he hopes his diagnosis helps to remind people that there are other important medical issues needing attention despite the pandemic.
"It's a very difficult time in medicine. They're learning a lot of stuff, and we can't let everything focus on one disease," he said.
Medical providers told 67-year-old Carter to thank COVID-19 and the subsequent testing for finding the tumor, otherwise his cancer likely would have gone undetected for longer.
Currently, there are no screening tests for pancreatic cancer, so it is often diagnosed only once it reaches an advanced stage and people start showing symptoms, according to the National Cancer Institute website. Carter's cancer was officially diagnosed after a biopsy of some lesions on his liver.
Pancreatic cancer is rarer than many other cancers, accounting for 3% of the cancers diagnosed each year and 7% of cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. Long-time "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, who announced his pancreatic cancer diagnosis in March 2019, is one of the more notable celebrities to recently succumb to the disease. Trebek died on Nov. 8.
Carter intends to continue serving in the state legislature and said in a statement that he's "blessed to have a loving family and lots of good friends, many of whom have already reached out to me."
He was first elected to the Tennessee General Assembly in 2012 after building a successful career as an attorney, businessman and former Hamilton County General Sessions Court judge. Many fellow House members refer to him as "Judge Carter," and in a caucus that has few attorneys, he's become a go-to person for GOP members who need legal insight regarding proposed bills.
Carter is a member of the full Judiciary Committee and chairman of the House Civil Subcommittee, as well as the Local Committee and Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee.
His wife, Joan Carter, said after four rounds of chemotherapy, doctors will evaluate the future course of action. For now, his treatment is going well, she said.
"All his blood work is staying in the normal range to continue chemo, and so we have high hopes and so does the oncologist. She says that he will be able to do everything he did prior to the diagnosis. Once the tumors shrink, he'll start feeling much better," Joan Carter said. "We're not giving up by any means."
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