Cancer battle won't stop Vernon city councillor from doing what she loves | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Cancer battle won't stop Vernon city councillor from doing what she loves

Coun. Dalvir Nahal was elected in 2014. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, completed her four-year term on council, and now says she will run again.
August 22, 2018 - 6:30 PM

VERNON - It was halfway through her first four-year term as a Vernon city councillor when Dalvir Nahal found out she had stage four cancer.

“I was literally given maybe two years,” she says.

Friends and family gently suggested that she step down from council, focus on her health and start checking things off her bucket list. Being a first time councillor is a stressful job with a steep learning curve and plenty of public pressure — if Nahal was looking for an out, this was it.

She didn’t take it, and now, two years later, she wants to run again in the upcoming October election.

“I felt like people voted for me and I wasn’t just going to take the easy way out,” Nahal says of her decision to complete her first term.

The past two years have been anything but easy. Nahal receives chemotherapy once a month and is on medication that often leaves her nauseous, suffering bouts of insomnia or feeling fatigued. Beyond her loving and supportive family and friends, the thing that gets her out of bed every day is her job as a city councillor.

“You know when you’re sick and people say you should quit your job and go travel the world and just do the things you love? Well, I am doing what I love. I love helping people and trying to make our community better,” Nahal says.

Having already beaten breast cancer once — she was just shy of her five year remission date when the second diagnosis came — she refuses to let the disease dictate her life.

“If I can make each day count, then I’m happy. I don’t think about “what if I’m not here anymore.” There are days I get up and my body hurts so I’ll do two minutes of self pity and then get up and do what I can. I won’t give it any power over me.”

She admits that some have questioned why she would run again, considering her diagnosis. In response, she shares the story of her good friend and colleague, the late Coun. Bob Spiers. He died earlier this year of a suspected heart attack. No one saw it coming.

“Life is unpredictable. Bob died doing what he loved. One of our last conversations I was telling him I wasn’t sure about running again. He said ‘if you like what you do, run. If you don’t, don’t.’ Simple as that, classic straight-to-the-point Bob,” Nahal says.

As the youngest member of council, Nahal, 42, says she looked up to Spiers and other veteran councillors for guidance and mentorship.

“I’m still learning,” she says. “I think it took me the first two years to find my voice. Now that I have it, there are still things I want to do with it.”

She knows a lot more about city council this time around than when she first ran in 2014.

“What I expected was that each councillor came in with an agenda and you crossed things off the list. That’s not how it works,” she says.

She’s learned that things take time to approve, and if you don’t roll them out properly, they’re bound for failure. New issues come up every two weeks at city council meetings and there are hundreds of pages of reports, memos and other correspondence to keep on top of.

One of the toughest aspects is the intense public scrutiny that comes with the job.

“You have to have a thick skin. When you get home after making a decision at council, the emails start coming in and they can be mean. After a while, you just have to do what you feel is right. If you’re doing what you believe in your heart, you’re able to justify it to the public,” she says.

One such decision was a city-wide ban on shopping carts on public property. Nahal voted in support of the controversial ban because, as she says, the carts used by homeless individuals to transport belongings around Vernon are essentially stolen property. The same day that she voted for the ban, she went home and ordered 10 pull carts to donate to those in need out of her own pocket.

“I still 100 per cent stand by the decision, but I have compassion too,” she says. “I have a lot of sympathy for people on the streets. With my health issues, without the family support I had, that could be me. There are days you don’t want to get out of bed, don’t want to eat, don’t want to go to work.”

She hopes to inspire others to follow their dreams no matter what obstacles stand in the way. In particular, she encourages individuals, and particularly young people, to consider running for council.

“It doesn’t matter what adversities you are facing, just go for it,” she says.

Nahal is active with the Sikh Temple and also organizes the annual Bollywood fundraiser in support of local charities. She lives in Vernon with her two dogs, Romeo and Niko. Because of her cancer treatment, she experienced premature menopause and cannot have children.

“I was sad because I have so much love to give. But I realized love is love — you don’t have to necessarily give it to kids. I can give it to the community,” she says.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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