LIBERAL Steve Doszpot rose for his final, formal speech – “a speech that I wish I didn’t have to give” – to the ACT Legislative Assembly today (Tuesday, October 24) to plead for more understanding, awareness and funding for the early diagnosis of liver cancer.
He said it could save many lives in the full knowledge it won’t be his. He revealed he has inoperable liver cancer.
The optimism of his “business-as-usual” revelation of the cancer diagnosis in February has been overtaken by a pragmatic resignation to the terminal nature of his disease. He tires these days and the unremitting burden of three shadow portfolios – urban services, seniors and ICT – were becoming too much.
In thanking his medical team, he said he faced “the reality of a grim prognosis with just a glimmer of hope”.
In a candid interview with “CityNews”, Doszpot, 69, talked about his commitment to hope beyond cure and the role his faith (“not very fashionable these days”) was having in assisting a positive attitude to his situation.
He will formally retire from nine years in the Assembly in early December. During that time he represented three electorates – Brindabella, Molonglo and, most recently, Kurrajong.
“It was obviously not part of my plans, but as one of my favourite lyricists, John Lennon, wrote: ‘Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans’,” he said.
In his valedictory speech he pledged to keep up his advocacy for so long as he could, “not only for the thousands of cancer sufferers in our community but also for their families, who are so important as hard-working carers providing love, support and hope”.
Drawing from the advice of his Sydney specialist Associate Prof Simone Strasser, of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, he said primary liver cancer was the most rapidly rising cause of cancer death in Australia with rates almost doubling in the last two decades.
“There needs to be an increased awareness of the causes of liver disease, the role of early interventions and the role of screening programs in at-risk individuals,” he said.
“Treatments for liver cancer are dependent on the stage of cancer at diagnosis. Early diagnosis can lead to curative treatment and improved survival rates but current diagnostic tests are crude, and there is an urgent need to develop new diagnostic tools to diagnose liver cancer early.
“The proportion of people developing liver cancer from non-viral causes is increasing, with the commonest causes relating to lifestyle factors including excessive alcohol consumption or the presence of fatty liver disease related to obesity or, as in my case, type 2 diabetes.
“In summary, research funding to identify the drivers of liver cancer, to understand the biology and develop new diagnostic and treatment strategies is critical.”
In thanking his Assembly colleagues from both sides of the chamber and his family, particularly Maureen, his wife of 46 years, he said his mother, Anna Doszpot, in her eighties took part in his election campaigns until her death in 2015.
“She insisted on helping on election day and I have to confess her instruction to potential voters in her thick Hungarian accent: ‘You have to vote for my son – he is a good boy’ did worry me – but luckily people seemed to like her and take her advice!”
So what will he miss when he leaves politics?
“I’ll miss community involvement. I like meeting people. I’ll miss not having the ability to influence legislation and I’ll miss not being able to complete some of the tasks,” he said, ruefully pointing to the dangerous dogs issue that he has fought hard to bring into public view over recent months.
Conversely, what won’t he miss, “CityNews” asked?
“Being in Opposition,” he said. “I was shattered by the result of last October’s election result.”
Over the past nine years, Steve Doszpot’s annual, trivia-quiz, charity nights have raised about $230,000 for 10 local charities and individuals. Steve wrote all the questions himself and anyone unfamiliar with his lifelong passions for soccer (“football, Ian!”) and Beatles music were in for a long night.
In closing his emotional Assembly speech, he said: “My father was always reminding me as a young man that I, as the eldest child, would need to somehow thank Australia for the generosity shown to our family of refugees 60 years ago. My father passed away 16 years prior to my election to this Assembly but I have always remembered his words, and one of my remaining tasks is to thank our Prime Minister, on behalf of our family.
“This refugee family arrived in Australia in 1957 – Istvan Doszpot, his wife Anna, his mother-in-law Borbala Cziegler and his then three children Istvan, Anna and Gustav with two more siblings, William and Mary born in Australia. They found peace, freedom and acceptance in Australia.”