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Angel In Disguise

Featured Photo from Angel In Disguise

When cancer robbed local speech pathologist Angel-Marie Carson of her own voice, she leaned on her profession and her community to emerge more capable and more caring.

When Angel-Marie Carson awoke after surgery, she was hungry but couldn’t ask anyone for food. She couldn’t tell the nurses what kind of pain she was in or how scared she suddenly was. Angel had spent the last 20 years of her life helping other people better express themselves through speech, but after the 2010 surgery to remove a brain tumor from her frontal lobe, Angel learned firsthand just how maddening a disconnect between the mind and the mouth can be.

Angel also remembers how her sudden speech impairment changed the way people interacted with her. Nurses, doctors, and even friends and family innocently began treating her as if everything but her speech was suddenly defective.

“They treated me as if I couldn’t hear and as if my IQ had been reduced,” Angel recalls. It was an immensely frustrating experience, but it was also an incredibly rare opportunity for a professional speech therapist to walk in the shoes of her clients.

A physician knows what it feels like to have the flu, but speech therapists and other rehabilitation providers rarely know what it’s actually like to live with the impairments they treat every day. But Angel suddenly knew, and speech apraxia (the inability of the brain to properly control the muscles of the throat, tongue, and mouth to produce speech) instantly became much more than a case study or clinical diagnosis. It was her reality, and Angel would spend the next six years drawing from her own knowledge and the expertise of her colleagues to completely regain her powers of speech and hone her own craft in a way few other therapists ever can.

Not surprisingly, Angel’s own speech therapist was among those most responsible for her remarkable recovery.

“His acceptance and respect motivated me,” says Angel. “His ability to make me believe he knew exactly how hard it was to be unable to express my basic wants and needs was key to my recovery.”

As a result of her experience, Angel feels she has become a better speech therapist with a deeper understanding of the needs of her clients and the importance of educating their families.

As with any survivor of a major illness, Angel is careful not to take any day for granted, which makes it easier for her to go outside of her comfort zone and set aside her fears.

In many ways, Angel attributes her journey as a survivor and her growth as a speech therapist to her local community. Angel’s children have gone through Lake Mary schools from elementary to high school, frequently participating in social clubs and sports teams. As Angel recovered from the cancer and the speech apraxia, she found comfort in her church, her favorite yoga class, and from the local families who brought meals and other supplies for nearly three months.

“I love living in Lake Mary,” Angel says. “For me and my family, it’s more than a place to live. It’s a place to heal.”

Today, Angel serves as a speech therapist for Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, and she has spoken to UCF students and other aspiring therapists about her unique perspective on the profession. Angel recently published a book about her journey, the proceeds of which go to fund brain-cancer research.

To monitor for any signs of her cancer’s return, Angel will undergo an MRI every six months for the foreseeable future. Like her experience with speech loss, the procedure will become part of her life, but thanks to the efforts of many and her own determination, Angel will never again have to face her fate in silence.

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