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Las Vegas’ 1st female mayor also battled cancer during campaign

Updated January 31, 2019 - 10:16 pm

When Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman announced this month that she has breast cancer, the eight-year policymaker was adamant that pending treatment would not dilute her energetic campaign for a third term, nor would it affect her effectiveness on the City Council.

In Goodman’s emphatic declaration, there is precedent in Jan Jones Blackhurst, the city’s first female mayor, who was diagnosed with invasive stage 1 breast cancer in January 1998.

After revealing through a press release that she was ill, Jones Blackhurst announced in the spring that she was running for governor.

“I lost the governor’s race, but I beat the disease,” she said Thursday.

Before Goodman, there was Jones Blackhurst, who served two terms, from 1991 to 1999, as the figurehead of the council immediately preceding the tenure of Goodman’s husband, Oscar.

In an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jones Blackhurst spoke about treatment on the campaign trail, why she chose to publicize her diagnosis and her thoughts on Goodman’s “bravery.”

Jones Blackhurst began a four-week radiation treatment following her diagnosis, then six months of chemotherapy that stretched well into her Democratic bid in the governor’s race, her second try, which culminated with defeat to Republican Kenny Guinn that November.

The treatment was aggressive for a relatively small cancer, she said, because the cancer was hormone negative and not encapsulated in a tumor — both bad markers. Late that summer, she entered remission.

“You’ve got to be strong,” she said, noting that she lost her hair but joked: “I got some great wigs. Luckily, this is Las Vegas.”

For Jones Blackhurst, now 69, the gubernatorial campaign offered a focal point to distract from being sick. Ultimately, she believed the campaign strengthened her resolve to fight the disease.

“It makes you focus on living, the importance of living, the importance of doing things,” she said. “Not just going inward and feeling beaten, betrayed, angry and frightened.”

But wasn’t the statewide campaign schedule grueling?

“As I look back, that’s never what I think about the race,” she said. “I don’t think about the cancer.”

However, she said she had been cognizant of her high-profile status and how publicizing the cancer might help to alert others about the importance of necessary routine checkups: “The public sort of went through my treatment with me.”

It is critical to share cancer stories, whether as a survivor or family member, because it reinforces the key of early detection, said Chelsea Robinson, the executive director of Susan G. Komen Nevada, the nonprofit that has invested more than $12 million in local breast health programs since 1996.

Goodman’s recent disclosure has undoubtedly “sparked conversation,” Robinson said, in ensuring Nevadans understand inherent risks and know to get screened and steps to prevent late-stage diagnoses: “Those are things that we want people to think about.”

After a routine annual physical, Goodman, 79, learned she has stage 2A cancer in her right breast. Doctors have assured her it is treatable.

“Otherwise, I’m completely healthy and can continue to work effectively as the mayor of Las Vegas during treatment,” Goodman said in a Jan. 22 press conference.

She was not immediately available for comment Thursday due to commitments to city-related meetings.

About a decade before Goodman’s admission, Las Vegas Mayor Pro Tem Lois Tarkanian learned she had uterine cancer — a diagnosis with which she said she had not been very public about before now. Primarily, Tarkanian cited being diagnosed mid-term as the reason she did not disclose it, suggesting that, unlike Goodman and Jones Blackhurst, she would not have had to face questions about her campaign readiness.

“Basically, when you’re told you have cancer, it’s just like somebody punching you in the stomach,” Tarkanian said Thursday. “I just focused on what I needed to do, on family and on work, and I didn’t think of the cancer and I think that’s important.”

After two operations and chemotherapy, she went into remission around 2009 or 2010. She described how it is critical to face the disease head on but “don’t let it devastate you.”

“I think she’s the type, as her husband said — she’s just magnificent, she’ll come through,” Tarkanian said of Goodman, with whom she has shared the dais for eight years.

Jones Blackhurst, a longtime executive with Caesars Entertainment Corp., called Goodman a “role model to many” and noted she only learned of the mayor’s diagnosis recently after having been out of town for work. But she plans to call Goodman soon “just to tell her I’m thinking of her.”

“We all have our own ways of dealing with challenges, and mine might be different than Mayor Goodman’s,” Jones Blackhurst said, “but she’s a strong woman and she will be able to assess how hard she can run, how hard she can push herself and balance that with whatever treatment is required.”

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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