14 September 2023

Third cancer diagnosis prompts Mayor to reflect on values and priorities

| Neil Reilly
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Kiama Mayor Neil Reilly

Kiama Mayor Neil Reilly says the luck of survival has shifted his perceptions. Photo: Supplied.

With the change of season, comes a change of perspective.

I suppose I have suffered the hard knocks of life, like we all have. I’ve pulled through OK, with a few scars to show, but given as good as I got. But I never thought about my own mortality at all really, until I was diagnosed with cancer.


For the third time.

Before my recent diagnosis, I had the constant illusion of boundless time. It was easy to assume there’d always be another moment to rectify mistakes, make amends, or maybe even become a responsible adult!

Now as it turns out, I am not going to die. As part of a worldwide trial for cancer immunotherapy, myself and many others in my situation may live longer, happier lives where the power of the body’s own immune system has been used to control and maybe eliminate cancer.

While the contemplation of my mortality has had a profound effect on me, the luck of survival has shifted my perceptions, values, and priorities. I consider myself more than lucky. I feel changed.

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Fittingly, all this is taking place at this time of spring, the season of renewal. It’s time to look at the extraordinary paradox of my being and my mortality as a pair of lenses that, when focused together, the blurry aspects of life come into sharp focus.

Here’s some early observations both from my own life and in relation to being Mayor of Kiama.

1. We can learn strategy from doctors.
For a doctor, the challenge appears as a set of signs and symptoms together with a history. A clinical diagnosis is made, identifying a disease. A therapeutic approach is chosen and this is the doctor’s guiding policy. Then there is a specific prescription for treatment and a set of coherent actions to be taken. Diagnosis, guiding policy and a plan of action. That’s strategy!
At council, we’ve been working hard to put new strategies, policies and plans in place. Now we need to follow them through.

2. Ask better questions, get better answers.
I plan to use my newfound awareness of life’s brevity to serve as a motivation to ask better, more direct questions. This will lead to better outcomes. Both in the chamber and elsewhere, I expect.

3. Collaborative committees.
We have planted the seeds for two new council committees. These bodies will look at and help guide us on the matters that really matter. If we nurture these, they will thrive and produce thoughtful, useful and practical advice to beautify our decision-making.

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4. Motivated staff.
We’ve restructured our organisation and made several new appointments, particularly of late to round out our management team. New staff bring fresh energy that will help us all grow. We will see the already established attributes such as personal development, productivity and leadership, bloom into career excellence.

5. Be kind to yourself.
This kind of revelation won’t cover up past mistakes, but reveals the answer isn’t to be more perfect, it’s to be more understanding – first of yourself, then of others.

Metaphorically, with my illness and potential for overcoming it, the recognition of the passing of winter is often matched with a powerful joy in life and love of spring.

Here’s to new shoots everywhere!

Kiama Mayor Neil Reilly has represented the Kiama community as a councillor since 2008, including a year as deputy mayor.

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