On the heels of Winnipeg MP Jim Carr announcing he's undergoing cancer treatment, two provincial MLAs have disclosed their own battles with cancer.
NDP MLA Nello Altomare revealed late last week he was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, on Oct. 8. Newly appointed Minister of Central Services Reg Helwer was diagnosed in the spring with testicular cancer and had a successful surgery this summer, which doctors told him "probably caught all the cancer."
Altomare, who was elected in September to represent Transcona, is scheduled to undergo chemotherapy treatments for the next six months. He plans to fulfill his duties as MLA as much as he can during the process.
"I don't know what it's going to be like because I've never been an MLA before. So we'll see, right? We'll learn along the way," he said during an interview.
The 55-year-old said he has to honour his family's wishes when it comes to work-life balance, specifically adhering to his wife's advice.
"She's said, 'Look, your first priority is to get better. Then you can do your work because then you'll be better to do your work," Altomare said.
"I don't know what it's going to be like because I've never been an MLA before. So we'll see, right? We'll learn along the way." – NDP MLA Nello Altomare, diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma
The New Democrat said he's had tremendous community support since breaking his personal news, which he wanted to do partly to avoid speculation of where he might be in the months ahead.
"Shakespeare said it best: 'To thine own self be true.' And I have to be true to what I'm like as a person. If I'm facing a challenge, I want people to know that," Altomare said.
Helwer said his family and close friends, including Premier Brian Pallister, knew about his cancer battle, but he’s telling the wider public for the first time as he begins fundraising for Movember.
The annual event involves men grow moustaches during the month of November to raise awareness and money for men's health care, mental health and suicide prevention. Expect him to be sporting his first moustache in 33 years very soon.
In an interview, Helwer described how he kept campaigning for re-election this summer in Brandon West despite his health scare. Doctors advised he should take it easy with light exercise (walking and door-knocking allowed) and not lifting more than 20 pounds. Still, he got creative and "found ways to have a hug" with his grandson, who weighs closer to 30 pounds.
Helwer said he will be under "active surveillance" by CancerCare Manitoba staff for years to come, with blood work scheduled for every three months and CT scans every six months at first.
Doctors said he was an unlikely person to get testicular cancer considering his age. At 59, he was told the disease usually affects men in their 20s.
"But it can happen to anyone. So I had pain and swelling and went for ultrasounds and tried a few different things. And then with CT scans, the radiologist told me it was cancer, which is disconcerting to hear, obviously," Helwer said, noting he’s had many friends and family experience cancer diagnoses, but this was his first brush with the disease.
According to CancerCare Manitoba, an estimated 6,900 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2019 provincially. An estimated 2,900 people are expected to die of the disease in Manitoba this year alone.
For men, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death. For women, breast cancer is the worst culprit.
On Oct. 25, Liberal MP Carr (Winnipeg South Centre) released a statement saying he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma the day after the federal election. The blood cancer has also affected his kidney function, so Carr is undergoing chemotherapy and dialysis treatment concurrently.
While the former cabinet minister declined an interview Monday, a spokesman from Carr's office said his treatments "are going very well and he feels good and has lots of energy."
"(Carr) is looking forward to getting back to work in Ottawa very soon," Jeff Kovalik-Plouffe said.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Monday, November 4, 2019 at 10:30 PM CST: Updates story.