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Distracted by work in his constituency office, Nello Altomare missed the series of calls from his oncologist, who was attempting to deliver the news the rookie NDP MLA had been hopeful for since his diagnosis.
It was his partner who would finally break the news via text: his latest medical scans were clear.
"I just felt so relieved and grateful, and I know I’m lucky, because all you have to do is read the obituaries every Saturday; people my age, younger, are dealing with this disease," said Altomare, 56, during a phone call Saturday.
The MLA for Transcona announced the news about his blood-cancer remission on social media this week, alongside a smiling photo of himself, his daughter and their dog.
Not long after being elected to the Manitoba legislature in the fall, Altomare was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He had found some lumps on his body earlier in the summer, which prompted him to visit the doctor and get some tests done during his election campaign.
A recently retired principal, Altomare suddenly had to start a new career while battling cancer. He underwent six months of chemotherapy while attempting to both fulfill his duties as an MLA and to his family; he had promised his wife and children he would honour work-life balance.
"It was quite a haul. Chemotherapy, it ravages you — it really does. You can go into it intellectually understanding it, but once you experience it, it’s at a whole other level," Altomare said, adding the drugs he was on were toxic to both his lungs and heart.
Altomare said his hair has all grown back, and now he’s waiting for his once "booming" voice to return. His voice became raspy in late April, after he collapsed in the middle of the night and was rushed to the intensive care unit, where he was intubated. To date, he cannot remember the 48-period during which it happened.
He attributes his recovery, in part, to the constant support he received from his family and friends, as well as his community, constituents, and MLA colleagues on all sides of the political spectrum. When it comes down to personal health matters, there is no partisanship, he said.
"We’re all supportive of each other and we all want to see each other back in the house," he said.
"I came out the other side, so I'm eternally grateful for that and that will influence my politics, absolutely. I will try not to be personal in my criticism."
Being the NDP education critic, Altomare said he plans to spend the next few months focusing on ways to get students and staff back to school as safely as possible, by pressing the Pallister government on everything from additional funding for divisions to COVID-19 contract tracing in schools.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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