Tessa Jowell opens up about being diagnosed with brain cancer

‘I was deeply touched by Seamus Heaney’s last words, when he said do not be afraid. I am not afraid. I feel very clear about my sense of purpose,’ says Labour peer 

Maya Oppenheim
Wednesday 24 January 2018 14:37
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Tessa Jowell opens up about brain cancer diagnosis

Tessa Jowell insisted she was not afraid of brain cancer as she spoke out about having the disease for the first time.

The Labour peer and former culture secretary, who stood down as an MP in 2015, said she had a “clear sense of purpose”.

The 70-year-old was diagnosed with a high-grade brain tumour known as glioblastoma last May. That type of the disease is so rare that she has been told there is no further treatment she can have on the NHS.

The former minister for public health is now campaigning for better cancer treatment in the UK and will speak about the issue in the House of Lords this week.

She will argue innovative cancer treatments accessible in other countries should be available on Britain’s health service.

Ahead of the speech, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I tell you something. I am absolutely 100 per cent trying to stay alive. That is exactly the kind of risk that patients should be free to take. It should be a risk that they have the chance to take and it’s certainly what somebody like me wants.

“It got to the point in the NHS in London where I couldn’t be given any more treatment, but it was very clear that if I went to Germany then I had a chance of taking out this immunotherapy, a new experiment. I was and I am prepared to try that.”

She added: “I was deeply touched by Seamus Heaney’s last words, when he said do not be afraid. I am not afraid. I feel very clear about my sense of purpose.”

Baroness Jowell, who announced she had the disease on her 70th birthday last year, said 2,000 people have penned her “the most wonderful letters” because she publicly revealed her cancer.

She said: “I have so much love in my family, my children, my close friends, it’s the most extraordinary, blessed and recreating sense, and I feel that I want that to be experienced by so many other people as well.

“I was deeply touched by Seamus Heaney’s last words, when he said do not be afraid. I am not afraid. I feel very clear about my sense of purpose, and what I want to do, and how do I know how long [my life is] going to last? I’m certainly going to do whatever I can to make sure it lasts a very long time.”

Baroness Jowell, who was the MP for Dulwich and West Norwood between 1992 and 2015, was one of the Labour Party’s most recognisable faces while Tony Blair was in Downing Street. The former social worker reportedly once said that she would “jump under a bus” for her leader.

A member of both Mr Blair and his successor Gordon Brown’s cabinets, she was minister for the Olympics from 2005 to 2010. She stood down as an MP at the 2015 general election.

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