Thursday, 3 Dec 2020

Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell has prostate cancer, will take medical leave away from council

Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and will be taking medical leave to receive treatment and recover away from what, in his view, is the “toxicity” of the council.

Powell said he would go on leave on November 20 and have surgery soon after, with the goal of returning to his duties as soon as he could in the New Year.

Deputy mayor Tina Salisbury will step up in his absence.

Powell had careers in the military and business and featured on the Rich List with his wife, entrepreneur Sharon Hunter, before he was elected mayor of Tauranga one tumultuous year ago.

Powell, 60, said a PSA blood test taken in a routine health check about three weeks ago uncovered the first sign of cancer.

“I get regular checks, even at my age … I’m at the younger end of the spectrum for this.”

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Kiwi men with more than 3000 diagnoses and around 600 deaths each year, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

Age is the biggest risk factor: the cancer mostly affects those over 65.

The PSA test screens for a prostate specific antigen and elevated levels can point to a prostate abnormality.

“It wasn’t crazy elevated,” Powell said of his results. “But as a consequence of that I went and saw Peter Gilling, who is globally recognised for what he does.”

Based in Tauranga, Gilling is a urologist and professor of surgery who is a world-renowned expert and pioneer in his field.

Powell said he had two scans: first an MRI that showed there was a problem, then a PET CT – highly detailed medical imaging that can detect cancers throughout the body.

It was an anxious wait for the results.

“Your mind plays games. You start to analyse all the old aches and pains and wonder how far it might have spread. By then I knew I had prostate cancer, the question was, has it spread very far?”

Last week Powell learned the prostate cancer had spread to “localised” lymph nodes, but not to other organs.

“Luckily, it’s been mostly contained.”

He said his diagnosis was neither early nor late, but the cancer needed to be dealt with “now”.

“It is what it is. I’m one of many. There’s nothing unique about this club I would prefer not to join. But here I am, knocking on the door.”

Powell, who never knew his father, did not know of any family history of prostate cancer, but knew it by reputation.

“It’s the one that gets men, as a rule.”

He was an advocate for check-ups from an early age.

“That’s my message to men, particularly in their 50s and 60s: If there is anything that gives you a hint that there might be a problem, get on to it.

“Don’t sit back and pretend it’s not going to happen because it’s easy to do that for men, being 12ft tall and bulletproof.”

He said men should take action and be open about it.

“There are some GPs that say ‘look, you’re only 58 or 62 and we don’t really worry about this until you’re 65’ or something. Say: ‘I want a test anyway, I want whatever blood tests or examinations are required’, because early detection is the lifesaver.”

In three weeks, Powell will undergo a prostatectomy, including lymph node removals. The surgery would be followed by radiotherapy.

Powell said he was feeling relieved and disappointed about his situation.

“I’m relieved it hasn’t spread; that I didn’t have the ‘sort your affairs out’ chat with Peter. I can look forward to winning the Craziest Grandad of the Year Award one day … though that’s a ways away.

“That’s one of the things that springs to mind, that I really want to be a grandad one day. It’s funny how your mind jumps to the important things all of a sudden.”

Hunter and Powell have two children, Charlotte, 20, and George, 23.

Powell said his wife was “incredible”.

“She’s very loving and very practical at the same time. She’s concerned, of course, but she’s been amazing. She’s extremely bright so she’s done a lot of research already.

“The kids are upset. Obviously no one wants to hear their parent’s got cancer.”

He said he was disappointed as a civic leader.

“We have made so much progress under very challenging conditions. My hope is that it doesn’t slow down.”

He highlighted the Tauranga Transport System Plan and the opportunity to partner with the new Government over the next two years and build on strong relationships forged with ministers over the last year.

The council has also been hit by controversy in that period. Ongoing conflict between some elected members led the council to hire an independent team to probe the issues. The team is due to file their first report this month.

Powell has also faced a censure and a series of challenges to his leadership including calls for him to quit and attempts to overthrow two deputy mayors. Two weeks ago, councillor Jako Abrie quit, calling for the council to be replaced with commissioners. A by-election will be held in February.

Plus, a pandemic, an eruption and an outbreak of gang violence.

Powell said the role had taken a health toll.

“I arrived in Tauranga fit, slim and mentally strong. Eighteen months later I’m a physical wreck but I’m still mentally strong.

“2020 has been a tough year for me, and it seems she has a sting in her tail.”

He believed the only way he would be able to return to his role was if he took time out to focus on his recovery, mentally and physically.

“The post-surgery plan is to be around positive, energising people with a can-do attitude and I’m blessed to have exactly that in my wonderful family and friends.

He said, in his opinion: “I just intend to remove myself from the toxicity and the negativity of council for now and get myself squared away again.

“Hopefully the recovery path will be such that I can come back and pick up the reins again.”

Asked if he considered other options, he said he had “never given up on anything in [his] life”.

Powell was confident in Salisbury’s ability to take on his responsibilities. He viewed her as a “future mayor” and said as his deputy she had proven herself capable and resilient in a short time.

He promoted Salisbury, a first-term councillor, to deputy in June after Larry Baldock resigned the role amid an attempted coup by six councillors, who briefly tried the same move with Salisbury.

Salisbury said her thoughts were with Powell and his family. She said this situation was unexpected but she knew when she accepted the role that stepping up if needed was her responsibility.

“I feel like I’m well-prepared. I’ve had a couple of opportunities to step into the role already, and I am honoured to do so again.”

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