It’s been a busy six months since Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones revealed she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
In an exclusive interview with The Telegram, Jones said it’s been tough sitting on the sidelines through the Muskrat Falls announcement, the resignation of former premier Danny Williams and the fall sitting of the House of Assembly. She’s not prepared to sit on the sidelines any longer.
“This is the biggest year of my political career,” Jones said.
Two weeks after her last chemotherapy treatment, Jones is back in the Opposition office for meetings and this weekend she’ll be in Corner Brook to campaign for Mark Watton in the Humber West byelection.
She starts radiation therapy at the end of the month, and will be taking a five-week course of treatments.
“Once I finish my radiation therapy, I’m hoping to be back to work on a full-time basis,” Jones said. “But as I go through radiation, I intend to ease back to work, work part time, whatever days and hours that I can.”
She said the plan is to be back in the House when it opens in March, and she’ll schedule her radiation therapy around her work.
Jones was forced to step back from the leadership position temporarily while undergoing surgery, and then chemotherapy. She said the chemo was hard.
“The treatments I took were very invasive treatments; they were very strong, and I had a tremendous amount of side-effects from those treatments,” she said.
“I don’t think I could have ever prepared myself for what I went through. I don’t think it was ever possible to prepare yourself to take on chemotherapy or to fight cancer.”
The disease and the treatments drained her, but even through the worst of it, she was never able to step back from politics completely.
“I was proofing press releases from the chemo lab,” she said.
Jones joked it’s a good thing the House of Assembly sat for only eight days in the fall; any more would have been too tough to watch from home.
At the same time, she found herself immersed in the health care system, and got a first-hand education.
“It’s been a learning experience in many ways,” she said. “Nearly 300 other women in this province will go through this this year, and I met a lot of those women along the way.”
She has already said when she gets back to the House, she will introduce a private member’s bill to lower the breast cancer screening age from 50 to 40 years old.
Jones was 42 when doctors found her cancer.
More broadly though, she said the system needs to better support cancer patients, and address the financial hardships that often come with the disease.
“I met women from all over this province who have to leave their homes, who have to come and live in St. John’s while they go through these treatments,” she said.
“One woman whose child is going through cancer, you know, there’s no financial support for her,” she said. “She has to leave her job. Her child will need her for the next year and she has to be by their side to take them through treatments.”
When she makes it back into the House of Assembly it won’t just be health care that Jones wants to push.
“We’ve had the highest revenues in our history, and now we’re still forecasting deficits in the years to come,” she said. “We have people all over the province who feel that they have never gotten an adequate share of that wealth.
“In my opinion, there’s some accountability that this government needs to own up to, and my job is going to be to insure that they do that.”
This is expected to be a pivotal year for the Liberal Party, and for politics in the province.
She said with so much going on, there were days when she wished things could have been different; that the cancer hadn’t gotten in her way.
“But at the same time, you know, everybody is dealt a certain part in life and given challenges,” she said.
“Did I ever consider leaving politics? Never.
“Serving people is what I enjoy doing most.”