Committed to Caring
KSU alum beats her own odds to help others
KENNESAW, Ga. (Nov 21, 2018) — As a professional counselor, Kennesaw State University alumnus Kim Duff specializes in helping people who have some type of disability. Overcoming challenges is something she knows well.
At 12 years old, Duff was diagnosed with brain cancer and told she had six months to live. After beating those odds, she lost her sight at age 16 and suffered partial paralysis to her left side.
She persevered, earning her psychology degree from Kennesaw State in 2000; completing her master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling; and working for several years as a counselor for a technical college, providing general counseling for Medicaid clients through various agencies, and as the Cobb County counselor for the blind for the state of Georgia. She opened her own practice, Overcomers Counseling, in 2016.
“I’m a fighter,” Duff said. “I just keep going.”
Duff developed that fighting spirit after being diagnosed with glioblastoma, the type of aggressive brain cancer that claimed Sen. John McCain’s life. Duff underwent multiple treatments, including at some of the top academic hospitals in the country.
“When one would give up on me, my parents just found someone else to keep on trying other treatments,” she said. “I had five brain surgeries, two rounds of radiation and one round of chemotherapy.”
Duff recovered and was enjoying life as a teenager – until she began experiencing headaches and blurred vision, and eventually lapsed into a coma. She said the cause was “a mass the size of a baseball in my brain” that caused hydrocephalus and put pressure on her optic nerve. The cancerous tumor was removed, but Duff awoke from the coma totally blind.
However, that didn’t stop her from accomplishing a goal she set as a child one day while reading encyclopedias. Flipping through the “C” volume, Duff was intrigued by an entry explaining the valuable work that counselors do.
“I was a kid and I read about being a counselor, and it just sounded exactly like the kind of thing I’d like to do,” Duff said. “I knew I wanted to help people.”
‘The perfect place for me’
A key step in that journey was Duff’s decision to enroll in Kennesaw State’s psychology degree program. She thrived in the welcoming atmosphere KSU provided and described Carol Pope, the assistant director of Student Disability Services at the time, as “an angel.”
“Kennesaw State is awesome,” Duff said. “It was such a kind environment. It was just the perfect place for me.”
Duff credited KSU’s rigorous academic program with preparing her well for her career. She explained that “graduate school was a breeze compared to the psychology department at Kennesaw State.”
Her alma mater played a big role again earlier this year. After two years of operating her own practice, Duff reached out to KSU’s Small Business Development Center for guidance on boosting her business.
Dan Regelski, a business consultant with the SBDC, worked with Duff to improve her processes for managing clients, receiving payments and tracking growth. He also helped Duff identify that she could provide counseling services not only in-person, but also by telephone and video conferencing. As part of that, she contracts with Vision Rehabilitation Services to counsel people who are newly blind and help them adjust to their disability.
“I am very excited about my expansion to online counseling. I really think this is the future of mental health care,” Duff said. “Video and telephonic counseling will allow me to offer convenient, accessible counseling services to people with a disability, chronic illness or mental illness throughout the state of Georgia.”
While Duff enjoys seeing her business growing, she is even happier at home. She and her husband Darren have a 6-year-old daughter, Amy, whom they describe as their greatest joy.
“She loves to snuggle, and I love snuggles too, so that’s my favorite thing about her,” Duff said. “She loves to be close to us. Life is good.”
– Paul Floeckher
Photos by Lauren Kress
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.