Radio Host Kim Adams Overcame Cancer With ‘Grit, Grace, and Gratitude’

The host of 98.7 The Breeze’s midday show has weathered the storm
Kim Adams was reluctant at first to go public with her cancer survival story but then realized her public role gave her a platform to help others. // Hair and makeup services provided by RUNWAY Salon & Beauty Bar, hairstylist/colorist: Diana Folino-Ujkaj, makeup artist: Divina Smith, boys grooming: Natalie Partyka 

As she gently strokes the silken, shoulder-length blond hair that was once her on-air trademark, Kim Adams assesses her mood and attitude after so much adversity. “Oh, my gosh, I’m amazing,” the 49-year-old declares, her radiant smile as wide as a high-pressure system. “Really, happier than I’ve been in years. My kids are all healthy. I have my dream job that I didn’t even know was my dream. And I’m in remission. Beyond that, what else is there? It’s just a really good time in my life right now, and I’m riding the wave.”

She is not bragging. Adams, who rose to Motor City fame as Detroit’s first female TV meteorologist, first on Channel 7 (WXYZ) from 1997 to 2002 and then on Channel 4 (WDIV) off and on until 2009, is just astonished that she could ever see sunny days again. Her list of indignities and misfortunes is enough to permanently wear down the most cheerful among us: the loss of virtually all of her possessions in Hurricane Katrina; a divorce that left her the single parent and sole provider of her five children; and aggressive breast cancer that required an emergency double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, and a complete hysterectomy.

She has been asked “How do you do it?” so many times that the question and answer are part of her Facebook bio. “How do I do it?” she writes. “Grit, grace, and gratitude.”

Adams, a Mount Clemens native, earned her master’s degree in journalism at Wayne State University and broke into the business as a full-time weather reader at a TV station near Columbus, Ohio. She bristled at the prospect of being reduced to “the weather girl,” so she studied atmospheric science at The Ohio State University and earned her certification with the American Meteorological Society. At the time, in the early 1990s, precious few women had that certification. She triumphantly returned to the Detroit area in 1997 to report the weather for WXYZ.

She moved on to WDIV in 2002 but left in 2005 to be a full-time mom and join her Naval officer husband in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where they built a three-bedroom home just before Katrina demolished it. After that disaster, which devastated the family financially as well because the insurance companies refused to pay out, the TV station in Detroit hired her back. Adams left that job again in 2009 after the birth of her third child and transitioned to a career in local TV advertising.

In the subsequent years, she and her husband had two more children — and then divorced. Adams prefers not to discuss the reasons for the split other than to say, “I had no choice. Absolutely no choice.”

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Regardless, she was on her own, raising five kids in the Detroit area as the sole breadwinner, when she felt a lump in her breast while making breakfast. Her doctor first suggested it might be a benign cyst, but a mammogram and an ultrasound found a swollen lymph node. Two other doctors, including a surgeon, also told her not to worry, but Adams didn’t buy it.

“I’m not the type to question doctors, but I lost a friend, Joy, to breast cancer,” Adams says. “She found a lump under her armpit, and they told her it was a swollen lymph node. Every time someone said, ‘swollen lymph node,’ I thought of Joy.”

A change of health coverage in 2017 required a new primary physician, who agreed with Adams’ concerns and ordered an emergency lumpectomy to test the tissue. Days later, Adams learned she did, indeed, have cancer — an aggressive, invasive ductal carcinoma that was spreading. It was difficult to spot, she learned, because her breast tissue is dense. Since this experience, Adams has become an advocate for women learning about their breast tissue, a potential impediment to cancer diagnosis that she never knew existed.

“They couldn’t see the tumor in my mammograms because a tumor shows up as white and so does dense breast tissue,” she says. “It’s like looking for a snowball in a snowstorm.”

Cancer wasn’t just terrifying to Adams. It was also supremely inconvenient. “I didn’t have time to become vulnerable — I had to take care of these kids,” she says. “They still wanted breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

Before telling them about her diagnosis, she took her quintet on a surprise vacation to Disney World. “I knew all of our lives were going to change from then on,” she says. “I wanted them to have a great, happy memory of us all together.” Then her parents, Cindy and Bill Adams of Grosse Pointe, stepped in regularly to ease the parenting burden as she underwent her treatments and operations.

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Beyond her parents, though, Adams solicited little assistance as she struggled through her health crisis. “Kim is so kind, but she is the type of person who will not ask for help,” says Renee Martin, Adams’ daughter Ava’s former first-grade teacher, who is now a close family friend. “Even if you tell her you’re coming by, she will say, ‘No, I’m good.’ So I never ask. When she was going in for her surgeries, I just would be at the hospital at 6 in the morning.”

Adams’ cancer journey might never have become public if not for her friend, longtime WDIV anchor Devin Scillian, lobbying her for nine months to tell her story on TV. “I never wanted it to be about me — ‘Oh, poor Kim,’” she says, echoing something she said in that five-minute, September 2017 report. “My cancer is no more tragic than anyone else’s. Why is that newsworthy? It’s not. But Devin convinced me that it is because I could help other people.”

As Adams recovered, she sought new TV media work but was unable to land an on-air job again. Instead, in February 2019, she became the midday host on 98.7 FM The Breeze, the local soft-rock station. She came to the gig with no prior radio experience and was unsure how she’d like it. Turns out, it fit her new reality perfectly.

“I never even considered radio, and I really don’t know why,” Adams admits. “I wanted to go back to TV, but nobody wanted me. And do you know why? Because it wasn’t God’s plan. On radio, you can have no hair while you’re working, you can go through treatment, and no one knows. You can do your job in yoga pants. It’s a completely different world than television.”

Tim Roberts, who hired Adams at The Breeze, gushes about his pick: “She’s a phenomenal human being. Kim is an inspiration to a lot of people. Her ability to do so many good things for so many people and charities is amazing, and she’s great at conveying that warmth on The Breeze every day.”

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Kim Adams, relaxing with her five children, reflects on the state of her life after so much turmoil: “Oh, my gosh, I’m amazing.”

Another local TV-to-radio convert, former WXYZ anchor JoAnne Purtan, encouraged Roberts to give Adams a chance, he says. “After meeting her, I realized this woman is a home run beyond belief,” Roberts says. “I knew her great personality would come through over the air, and that’s really what it takes. And she’s gotten dramatically better in a relatively short time.”

Adams recalls the heady, intense launch of this chapter of her career. Her audition was a trial-by-fire on-air stint on the station’s morning show. She’d never operated a radio control board before. “The afternoon-drive guy gave me 10 minutes of training, but at 5 in the morning, there’s nobody there but you,” she says. “I didn’t even know how to get in the front door.”

Buoyed by her platform on The Breeze, Adams says she attends several charity events each month, often bringing her children along to support such organizations as the anti-domestic violence nonprofit Turning Point Services, whose annual Stepping Out With the Stars benefit has been postponed to Aug. 13 (visit turningpointmacomb.org for details); the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure; and the Easterseals Miracle League of Michigan. She has accompanied female listeners, sometimes complete strangers, to their doctors’ appointments after they received their breast cancer diagnoses.

Adams is philosophical about her journey. The only item from her Mississippi home to survive Katrina’s wrath in 2005, astonishingly, was a delicate crystal chandelier that now  hangs in the dining room of her suburban Detroit home. “It’s a reminder of who I am,” Adams says. “When the chandelier was new, it was perfect, with no flaws. But after a hurricane, multiple moves, and not always being taken care of, it’s now scratched and a little banged up. A few of its crystals are missing. It’s no longer what it used to be, but it still shines brightly and provides light to others. It’s still beautiful and deserves to be loved, despite the scars.”

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