ANDY Stranack, Conservative candidate at the Croydon North by-election, has spoken publicly for the first time about his battle with cancer. Mr Stranack, 43, underwent emergency surgery at Croydon University Hospital in March after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. The charity worker spent the next nine weeks in hospital and admits there were moments where he thought he would die. Next Thursday he will complete six months of chemotherapy and has already returned to his work as a mentor for troubled youths on the Monks Hill estate near Selsdon. Showing the spirit that earned him plaudits from across the political divide while on the campaign trail Mr Stranack now hopes to stand in the local elections next May. Last week the Advertiser interviewed Labour's Steve Reed a year on from his election victory. For his Conservative rival, beaten into second, it has been a dramatically different 12 months. Mr Stranack, who has cerebral palsy, initially credited weight loss after November's by-election to the stress of a non-stop campaign. "I noticed I had lost a lot of weight, which I thought was a good thing to begin with," he said. "I went to the doctors a few times and was eventually diagnosed with possible gallstones but, by the end of March, it was obviously something more serious. "I was told I was told I had bowel cancer, but I put on a strong face. For me my first thoughts were for my family, the kids I mentor and the job club I run. I was more worried about what was going to happen to them than life or death." Mr Stranack was diagnosed on March 25 and underwent surgery the following day. Surgeons were able to remove the cancerous tissue but there was a complication following the procedure which left him in hospital for nine weeks. "There were nights when I went to sleep wondering whether I was going to wake up in the morning," he said. "Fortunately I got through it with the support of my family, friends and the church, as well as the party which has been very good." Mr Stranack is no stranger to adversity. At the age of five, doctors told him he would never walk because of his cerebral palsy. Within two years he had proved them wrong. He rarely ducks a challenge. In 2001, he gave up his £30,000 job as a policy officer at Croydon Council, sold his house in Birdhurst Rise, South Croydon, and went to live on the Monks Hill estate. "Generally in my life I've overcome adversity," he said. "Cancer was just another barrier to overcome. "I was told as a child I would never walk, but I did. It put a character trait in me which I have relied on." Mr Stranack, who is now living back at home with his parents in Waddon, will finish his chemotherapy programme at The Royal Marsden hospital in Sutton on December 12. Doctors have said there is a 30-40 per cent chance the cancer will return, but he has put that possibility to the back of his mind. "Spending time thinking about it is a waste," he said. "You have to get on with life and do what you want to do. "It's taught me that I should focus on what is important. So I've gone back to helping the kids in Monks Hill because I love doing it. "I find happiness in helping people. It's the only way to look at life." Mr Stranack added: "When I was first told I had cancer I thought to myself that I was born in Mayday with only 30 per cent chance of survival because of a lack of oxygen at birth. "I see the years since as a blessing and that's how I feel now. I want to seize every extra day I get." After impressing during the Croydon North by-election, Mr Stranack was seen by Conservative party insiders as an ideal candidate for next year's local elections. Despite his ordeal, he has not ruled that option out. He said: "I'm trying to live day by day, rather than setting too many long term goals. "But, assuming everything is going okay with my health, I certainly would like to represent Croydon as a councillor. "It's absolutely not put me off. I'm still passionate about Croydon and what politics can do."Charity effort A protege of Mr Stranack is to take part in a charity banger race to raise money for the hospital that is treating his mentor. Mr Stranack first met an 11-year-old Steven Pickering on the Monks Hill Estate through Croydon Jubilee Church and, over the years, has supported his efforts to find work. Mr Pickering, now 26, said: "Andy has done so much to help me that when I heard he had cancer, I wanted to do something to help him. "In the past Andy has helped me take part in a number of races and I thought it would be a great idea if I could do a race to support the people who are treating him." Mr Stranack said: "Steven was a bit of a tearaway when I first met him and was well known to the police and the council's housing team. "Over the years I've just helped him with simple things like writing CVs and helping him find work. "When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was not worried about death because I have a strong faith, but I was worried about how Steven would react to the news." Mr Pickering hopes to raise £500 by taking part in the race, which is at Wimbledon Stadium on Sunday (December 8).
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