Kristin Jones was in her 30s and about to begin her first General Assembly session in the office of Maryland's House speaker when the doctors told her.
She went into Michael Busch's office and closed the door.
She had cancer, she said. She offered to resign.
Busch kept her on during that 2003 session, which was his first as speaker — and another 11 years before it was announced this week that she accepted a new job, vice president of external affairs at University of Maryland Medical System.
She leaves next month after working a decade as chief of staff for Busch, D-Annapolis.
"It just feels like it's time for something new," said Jones, of Odenton.
Since 2005, she worked as his chief of staff on legislation dealing with an array of subjects.
"I'm ready to go back to immersing myself in one thing," she said.
Succeeding her will be Alexandra Hughes, Busch's deputy chief of staff. She lives in Baltimore and has worked in his office since 2006.
"She's very bright and talented and understands the legislative process," Busch said of Hughes. "She has a very good relationship with the members."
House Minority leader Nic Kipke, R-Pasadena, did not return messages Thursday.
Busch has served as House speaker longer than any Marylander in history. Behind the scenes, Jones has maintained an influential role: wrangling votes, managing meetings, analyzing legislation.
"All my years, I don't know that anybody's ever said a negative word about her," Busch said.
She's a graduate of Hammond High School in Columbia, the University of Massachusetts and University of Maryland School of Law. She was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1998.
In 2003, she endured chemotherapy about every third Friday, she said.
She recovered on the weekends and returned to work each Monday.
Except for those Fridays, she never missed a day during session, she said. About five years later, the cancer was gone.
"She's tough," Busch said.
Before working as chief of staff, she spent four years as counsel to the House Economic Matters Committee, focusing on health care and insurance issues. Busch served as chairman of that committee.
She helped craft the Maryland Children's Health Program, which began July 1998 and provides full health benefits to children of low-income families, those younger than 19.
"That program insures hundreds of thousands of kids now," she said. "It has had a real meaningful impact on the lives of a lot of families."
Still, she remains most proud of the Civil Marriage Protection Act of 2012, she said. That measure made Maryland the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage.
"It closed a gap for people from an equal-protection standpoint," Jones said. "You don't often get a chance to advance something as meaningful."
A framed copy of that bill hangs on her office wall.
She said it's coming with her.