WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. Julia Carson, a former secretary who rose to become Indianapolis' first African-American congresswoman, has announced she has terminal lung cancer, a newspaper reports.
Health problems have troubled Rep. Julia Carson, D-Indiana, for years.
The 69-year-old former City-County Council member and state senator told the Indianapolis Star on Saturday that she had been on a leave of absence since September to seek treatment and rehabilitation for a leg infection.
"Then the second shoe fell -- heavily," Carson told the paper in a brief written statement. "My doctor discovered lung cancer. It had gone into remission years before, but it was back with a terminal vengeance."
Representing the Hoosier State's 7th District since 1997, Carson opposed the Iraq war resolution in 2002 and worked to honor historic civil rights figure Rosa Parks. Fellow Democrats praised her as a bright personality who successfully fought against abuse of the welfare system.
Rozelle Boyd, a longtime Democratic member of Indianapolis' City-County Council told the Star he was surprised by Carson's announcement. "She was able to walk with giants without losing the common touch," he told the paper. "That is what I think was so very important to her and to the people of the district."
Before entering the House, Carson served six years as a trustee for the city's Center Township, creating a $6-million surplus from the office's $20-million debt, the Star reported. Her mentor, former Democratic Indiana Rep. Andy Jacobs, has said Carson "not only took cheats off the welfare rolls, she sued them to get the money," according to the Star.
Early in her career, Carson worked as a secretary and then aide to Jacobs. After her work on the City-County Council, she won her first of two terms to the Indiana House, according to Congressional Quarterly. Later she won election to the state Senate, where she served until 1991.
When Jacobs retired after serving 15 terms in the U.S. House, he endorsed Carson as his successor, and helped her win a difficult election in 1996 against GOP attempts to capture her seat, Congressional Quarterly reported. Carson was the first woman and first African-American Indianapolis had ever sent to Congress, according to her Web site.
Among her other achievements, Carson led Congress to pass a House measure awarding Parks the Congressional Gold Medal, Carson's Web site said. The Star named her Woman of the Year in 1991 and 1974.
"Julia to me is one of the most beautiful people with a great personality," said State Sen. Glenn Howard, an Indianapolis Democrat. "She cares about everyone, regardless of race or color."
Carson has been beset by health problems. In January 1997, she took her House oath of office at Indianapolis' Methodist Hospital as she recovered from double-bypass surgery, according to the Star. She also has suffered from high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes, according to Congressional Quarterly.
In 2004, Carson missed almost a third of House roll call votes, Congressional Quarterly reported, prompting tough questions about her health during that year's re-election campaign. Voters returned her to Congress by an 11 percent margin.
She's the sponsor of the House National Defense Rail Act, legislation before Congress which would provide more than $40 billion to develop high-speed rail connections and short-distance corridors between larger cities, her Web site said. E-mail to a friend