Sarah Smith, a brave and committed Liberal Democrat candidate fighting the election while undergoing cancer treatment

There’s a really moving profile of Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Smith in today’s Observer magazine. Written by her stepsister Catherine Mayer, it tells of how she is combining fighting the election with a gruelling course of Chemotherapy after being diagnosed with Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer just after party conference in October last year.

Sarah is not the only candidate fighting the election with such a diagnosis. I know of two others who have had Cancer diagnoses in recent months and are continuing with their duties. The way that they have handled it has been a real example to us all.

Sarah is fighting the seat of Dover and Deal and has been open about her diagnosis and hopes that she will be able to help others and raise awareness.

Surely she should now devote her energies to recovery or, if that proved elusive, draw up a bucket list? People in her situation book trips to Rome or the Galapagos rather than yearning to tramp the streets of Dover and Deal.

Sarah laughed at the comparison but remained obdurate. Her candidacy had validity before her diagnosis, she said, and she refused to accept that illness would stop her from being effective. Her local party agreed so she posted an open letter to constituents revealing her condition. “I am telling you about this because I want to be open about what is happening to me, and because my treatment will undoubtedly affect my campaign. It will be harder for me to get out to meet you on the doorstep, although I will do that as much as I can.”

Mayer outlines what Sarah has been through in the last 6 months:

So, although I have never voted Lib Dem, I am unashamedly partisan. Sarah, in return, felt compelled to overcome my scepticism about her Dover and Deal adventure and invited me to watch her in action, canvassing and at hustings. Before that campaign kicked off, there was another to wage: a nine-week cycle of chemotherapy, surgery and then nine weeks’ more chemo. Still averse to wasting time, Sarah suggested she start laying out her political journey for me at one of her regular Tuesday chemo sessions; the conversation might help to distract her from “the dreaded ice cap”, a piece of headgear designed to slow hair loss by keeping the scalp painfully cold

And even while in hospital, she was thinking of ways to improve care and help the NHS reduce costs:

As a candidate her experience as an NHS patient increasingly informed her determination not only to protect the funding of the service, but to defend it against political tinkering. Westminster’s fixation with the idea that competition inevitably creates efficiencies creates unintended side effects. “Hospitals are competing with hospitals, and hospitals with GPs, where collaboration would serve patients better,” she said. “Let people in the NHS run it.”

That didn’t mean she couldn’t see room for improvements. She noticed the pay-as-you-use combined phone, TV and radio fixed above her bed in University College Hospital was not only expensive but remained permanently on standby. Propped up on her pillow, with a drip in her hand, Sarah composed a letter not to complain – though the constant buzzing disturbed her sleep – but to suggest the hospital looked into the potential hit to its energy bills.

There’s praise for Sarah from Ryan Coetzee, the party’s director of strategy:

Candidates like Sarah are the lifeblood of the party,” says Ryan Coetzee, the Liberal Democrats’ director of strategy. “The party’s collective memory is full of stories about people flying the Liberal flag in places where we don’t really have a chance of winning. Britain would be a much poorer place if there weren’t people fighting elections that they can’t win because the future of the country isn’t just decided by the outcome of the general election. It is about winning the big arguments that shift sentiment over time.

There’s an example of that in action in this account of a conversation Sarah had with someone who was going to vote UKIP because of immigration:

Gaby Burden, wheeling her 11-month-old daughter, Brooke, had originally decided how to vote after watching an episode of Channel 5’s poverty pornography series Benefits Britain featuring Romanian immigrants. “This bloke openly said on TV that he was coming over here to take our benefits,” she tells Sarah. Gaby planned to put her cross against Ukip “because of them shutting the borders”.

Talking to Sarah, Gaby remembers that the doctors who saw Brooke safely delivered despite complications were immigrants. She’ll be voting Lib Dem, she declares.

Those conversations, all over the country, are really important.

You can read the whole interview here. I am sure everyone reading this will want to send best wishes to Sarah for continued recovery and to thank her for being such a fantastic advocate for the party.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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3 Comments

  • Very inspiring story, thank you for posting Caron…

  • How encouraging for people facing illness of all kinds. What an example to us all. To keep going despite the cancer diagnosis and the chemotherapy is inspirational. Congratulations Sarah – whatever the result.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Apr '15 - 10:04pm

    Best of luck Sarah. We need people with different experiences.

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