New MP’s heartbreaking health battle
Mary Doyle’s shock breast cancer diagnosis at the age of just 25 would shape her path to federal parliament more than twice as many years later.
The new Labor member for Aston touched on her experience of personal hardship and family tragedy in her first speech to parliament on Thursday morning.
Federal parliament’s newest MP was living in a share house in Melbourne and working at a call centre in 1995 when she found a lump in her right breast, “quite by accident”.
“I thought ‘how strange’ and made an appointment with my GP that morning,” Ms Doyle told the House of Representatives.
“The GP said, ‘it’s probably nothing but we don’t like letting these things go undiagnosed’ and lucky for me, she sent me off for a mammogram and ultrasound.
“The results stated the lump was ‘atypical’, so the GP sent me to a breast specialist who did a fine needle aspiration.”
The next day, the results confirmed she had breast cancer.
Ms Doyle, then 25, said she had “no family history” of cancer.
“I felt like someone had punched me. How can I have cancer? I’m too young – this can’t be real,” she said.
Cancer treatment meant being off work for at least two months while she recovered, which, as a casual worker, meant no pay.
But Ms Doyle said she was fortunate to live in a country home to Medicare, so she could have the extensive treatment she needed without having to pay “a King’s ransom”.
“Following that, I could access the necessary welfare payments while recovering,” she said.
“Caring for the unwell through Medicare – this is what Labor governments do.”
Ms Doyle said “social security” and “welfare” were not dirty words and both of them existed for a “very good reason”.
“We need to remember what they mean and re-embrace them,” she said.
“For the security of society, for the welfare of people, to help people get back on their feet, and ensure they’re not left behind.”
The new Labor MP, who grew up in public housing and went on to work in the union movement after surviving breast cancer, secured a historic victory in the recent by-election triggered by the resignation of former Liberal cabinet minister Alan Tudge.
She delivered her at-times emotional maiden speech on Thursday with her two children, grand-niece and other family members watching on from the public gallery.
She thanked the people of Aston for their support, recalling a woman she met at an Anzac Day Dawn Service at the Boronia RSL who came up and hugged her and said she and her partner were “so happy” there was now someone in federal parliament who they felt better represented them.
“As we talked about our family lives, I understood what they meant,” Ms Doyle said.
Born in 1970 to “a big Catholic family” in Echuca, Ms Doyle is the youngest of nine children born to a father who would go on to struggle with alcoholism and depression.
Ms Doyle described her dad, Ted, as a complicated individual who had his “fair share of demons” but was also a “good judge of character” who had many funny sayings and told “hilarious yarns”.
She also spoke about the tragic deaths of both her sister Carmel and her niece Melanie in 2009 and 2020 respectively, saying she and her family missed them terribly.
Ms Doyle teared up as she thanked her mum, Mary, who turns 93 next week and was unable to travel to Parliament House from her aged care home where she is living with dementia.
“I know she would have been so proud of me and would have loved to have witnessed all of this,” she said.
“She went through so much in her life and I have her to thank for being there for me when I needed her.”
Most importantly she said she wanted to thank the “wonderful people of Aston”.
“I confessed at the start of my campaign in 2023, I’m not a seasoned politician, and I still don’t think of myself as a politician,” she said.
“I am a regular type of person, who’s lived the kind of life which mirrors that of many of my constituents.”
Ms Doyle said her backstory was one “riddled with challenges” and families like hers needed good policy and to be taken seriously rather than “a pat on the head and a pitying look”.
“We are not a political football to be kicked around at election time,” she said.
“Those on the other side talk about opportunity while denying families like mine any assistance to grasp those opportunities.”
Ms Doyle wrapped up her speech to applause from the chamber by saying honoured to represent her constituents in Aston and promised she would always put them first.