Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell has been diagnosed breast cancer.
Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell has been diagnosed breast cancer. The Northern Star

Jenny Dowell diagnosed with breast cancer

IT'S EVERY woman's worst nightmare, and particularly poignant in Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Newly-elected Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell, 57, put on a brave face as she revealed to The Northern Star she has just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Cr Dowell is scheduled to undergo surgery in Lismore Base Hospital on Tuesday in which she will lose her left breast.

Cr Dowell said she would never forget Wednesday, September 17.

The nightmare began when she was called back after a routine mammogram in mid-August; something she did every two years.

“I got a letter saying come back and there was a brochure saying 'Don't worry. Only one-in-20 women have something wrong'. There were a lot of women there and we were all a bit nervous and chatting,” Cr Dowell said.

“But it soon became clear that mine was more serious. They started talking about a suspicious lump, so I had another mammogram. I had an ultrasound, and they pinpointed a lump and did a biopsy.”

Cr Dowell said a surgeon and a social worker were then called in.

“It was fairly heavy. But no one gave me false hope. No one said it could be fine,” she said.

Cr Dowell said she decided to go public because she didn't want any gossip around her illness, particularly as it had come at such a pivotal time in her public life.

“I don't want people saying, 'Jenny Dowell is dying', 'she is stepping down as mayor', or 'she knew about this before the election'. All these stories, 'she is riddled with it' ... all that stuff,” Cr Dowell said.

“I am hopeful this is just like a ... I don't know if it is a speed bump or a pothole ... it has rattled the chassis a bit, but it will be dealt with as many women do.”

Breast Screen contacted Cr Dowell on the Tuesday before the elections to tell her there had been a cancellation for September 10 and asked if she could go in early.

“I was handing out how-to-votes down at pre-poll and I wasn't worried. I said, 'No I can't'. And I am so glad I didn't go in,” she said, fighting back the tears.

“I wouldn't have wanted to have known just before the elections because I had three days of celebration before. It was good.

“I don't know if I could have kept going with the electioneering. I think if someone had looked at me sideways I would have burst into tears.”

Cr Dowell has been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, 1.6cm in diameter.

The hardest part, she said, had been telling her family - husband Ron and children Georgie, 27, who lives in Melbourne, and Tim, 24, who lives in Canberra.

“It was really hard telling my kids,” she said. “Georgie is flying home on Saturday to spend a week.

“Tim was very upset at the start, but seems to be doing okay now.”

Her husband Ron was 'shocked', but had been very supportive.

“I had a choice of mastectomy or radiotherapy. Ron supported my decision to have one (mastectomy). I could not bear six weeks of driving to Tugun every day,” she said.

“My breasts have done their job. I breast-fed two fabulous kids, and my sexuality and my self image are not tied up with my breasts, so I feel quite comfortable with the decision I have made.”

Cr Dowell said there was no history of breast cancer in her family.

In fact, she has never been to hospital except to give birth to her two children.

“It is just one of those things, and who knows what the cause is,” she said. “We can be falsely complacent if we think we tick all the boxes and have done everything right. The message is, especially for Breast Cancer Awareness month: Don't put it off.

“I am not even thinking about what might be, as in worse-case scenarios, as it is pointless,” she said.

“There is no point in spending energy or time on 'what ifs'.”

As for the future, according to Cr Dowell, it will be business as usual. She plans to be chairing the first proper meeting of Lismore City Council on October 14, one week after her surgery.

“My priority is to get to as much community stuff as I can reasonably manage, but I want to share that among all councillors,” she said.

As always, Cr Dowell is community focused, even under the strain of facing one of the toughest battles of her life.

If nothing else the breast cancer cause has just found itself another motivated supporter.

Cr Dowell is already considering using her experience to hurry along radiotherapy on the Northern Rivers so women don't have to travel so far for treatment.

“I have spoken to women on farms with young children, and they just don't have a choice (between mastectomy and radiotherapy),” she said. “To have a choice for future women is so important.

“I am a person who believes in things that happen are meant to be, and that we learn by our experiences.

“So I think this will make me a better councillor and a better mayor. I just hope I will be able to do the job as I want to.”

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