NEW YORK(CBSNewYork) — It was a bittersweet farewell to Congress for Carolyn McCarthy, a voice for gun violence victims.

After nearly two decades in officer she is retiring, following a health scare.

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“It’s been a wonderful experience, but I know it was said in how I got there,” she told CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan.

McCarthy had an improbably political career. Fate changed her life. Carolyn McCarthy was a nurse from Mineola when she was thrust into the national spotlight 21-years-ago when gunman Colin Ferguson shot and killed her husband Dennis and five others on a Long Island Railroad train, and wounded 19 more, among them her only child Kevin.

“I don’t know where that voice came. I tell people, you don’t know the strength you have in you, until you are faced with what you have to deal with,” she said.

McCarthy emerged from the emotional Ferguson trial as an activist, fighting to curb the availability of guns and large ammunition magazines.

With no political experience, she defeated the incumbent and Mrs. McCarthy was on her way to Washington, followed by an entourage of cameras.

“Oh my gosh this is not the way I want to start Congress, a celebrity, the last thing any new freshman wants,” she said.

McCarthy said she was embraced and throughout her 18 year career helped pass 15 pieces of major legislation through three presidents.

“I just wanted to make a difference,” she said.

Her son Kevin recovered and married.

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“Tears were coming down our eyes, who would have thought not only Kevin getting married, but he was walking and he learned how to speak again,” she said.

She managed to sponsor the law to improve reporting of people with mental illness to the federal background check system.

“At times after some of the massacres we’ve seen, and I’d be the only one on TV. That’s when I felt the loneliest,” she said.

Successfully battling cancer, McCarthy just sent out her final holiday card to her constituents, knowing there are new voices, now taking up her fight.

“So, I’m comfortable on where I’m leaving at this stage in my life,” she added.

Carolyn McCarthy has returned home to continue teaching and inspiring.

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice will be taking over for McCarthy and will be sworn in January 6.

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