A COUNCILLOR has had to resign after learning that she has incurable cancer, forcing a by-election.
Last May, Helen Power beat the then executive member for children’s services, Mark Ashwell, to take the Evendons seat for the Liberal Democrats, something that delighted her.
But not long after that victory, Helen learnt that she had an unusual type of incurable cancer.
She took part in a course of “pretty brutal chemotherapy” but said that in September medical experts told her that the treatment had not worked and she probably had less than 12 months to live.
Throughout all this, Helen carried on with her councillor casework, but took time out from October to focus on herself and her family.
Last month Helen started a new chemotherapy treatment which is hoped will have some success.
But the disease has meant that Helen feels compelled to step down as a borough councillor and concentrate on her health.
Speaking to The Wokingham Paper, she said: “Last year was a year of highs and the lowest of lows for me.
“In May, I was so delighted and proud to be elected as Wokingham borough councillor for Evendons Ward. The supportive and congratulatory messages from so many residents were a joy and inspiration. I thoroughly enjoyed immediately getting stuck into my councillor role.”
Helen said that highlights of her stint as a councillor included being able to work with her fellow Evendons residents on issues such as anti-social behaviour, town centre regeneration, traffic, housing and the recent campaign to save school crossing patrollers.
“Sadly over the summer I was told I had incurable cancer, an unusual type called ‘cancer of unknown primary’,” Helen said.
“I was very fit, healthy and had no family history of cancer. It was a bolt out of the blue and my life was turned upside down. It was so hard to take on board as I felt physically well but it was hard mentally to accept the diagnosis and what it really meant.”
Four cycles of “pretty brutal chemotherapy” followed before a diagnosis in September.
Helen recalled: “After a scan I was told the treatment had not worked and I probably had less than a year to live”.
Although she tried to keep going as normal, as the weeks went on, Helen came to the conclusion that something had to give.
“My councillor work was a great distraction [from the cancer], but by the end of October I realised I had to take some time off to reassess my priorities and remaining time,” she explained.
“I started a different chemotherapy regime in December and I hope it will be more successful and enable me to be ‘living with cancer’ for longer than the statistical time I have been given.
“And so it is with great sadness and disappointment that after such a short time as Evendons ward councillor – a role I was thoroughly enjoying –I realised I had to resign.
“I have to concentrate on my health, family and friends. A councillor role never stops and I could not, in good conscience, carry on without being able to fully commit to the residents I represent.”
Wokingham Liberal Demo-crat deputy leader Cllr Clive Jones said: “It’s a tragedy. For the short time she was a councillor, Helen did a really good job.
“Everyone in the party has been offering support for her. She is an incredibly strong person and very brave.
“It is just a huge shame that she wasn’t able to fulfil her potential.
“We all have huge respect for her.”
The leader of Wokingham Conservatives, Cllr Julian McGhee-Sumner, paid tribute to Helen: “I am deeply saddened to hear that Helen will not be able to continue as a councillor.
“Despite our party political differences, Helen deserves praise for the hard work she has done for her residents in the short time since she was elected.
“On behalf of all Wokingham Borough councillors and officers, I want to thank Helen for her service to the community, and offer her and her family our best wishes.”
And Wokingham Labour group leader Cllr Andy Croy said: “I was shocked and saddened to hear Helen is standing down and of her illness. My thoughts are with Helen, her family and her friends.
“It is so horribly unfair. Tragedies like this are a reminder of the things which are really important in our lives – love, family and friends. I hope Helen will have as much of these as is possible.”