Alaska Legislature

Palmer lawmaker announces she has breast cancer

PALMER — Sen. Shelley Hughes learned Tuesday afternoon that she has breast cancer.

By evening, Hughes decided to share that difficult news with followers of her regular live video legislative updates on Facebook. She also posted the information on her personal and political Facebook pages, quoting a biblical proverb and showing a photo of Hughes and her bearded son going zip-lining. She described him looking like a "Caucasian Jesus."

"I just learned that I have breast cancer. I'm going to beat it. Just like I beat a zipline ride hanging upside-down," she wrote. "I chose this photo for this post because 'a merry heart doeth good like a medicine' and it makes me smile to think my son looks a little like how an artist might envision a Caucasian Jesus. I believe prayer works, and I believe Jesus heals."

I'm your public servant and you deserve to hear the straight scoop from me rather than the rumor mill. I just learned...

Posted by Senator Shelley Hughes on Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Hughes, who expressed gratitude Wednesday morning for the support she was getting from hundreds of people, explained she wanted to get in front of the rumor mill.

"I wanted to be able to let people know I'm going into this strong, I'm in good shape, I've got a good attitude," she said as she got ready to return to Juneau on Wednesday afternoon for another special session of the Alaska Legislature.

[Another special session: Lawmakers headed to Juneau for capital budget vote]

A routine mammogram led to the biopsy that led to the diagnosis, Hughes said. She still doesn't know how advanced her cancer is, though she described preliminary indications she reviewed with her daughter — a physician-in-training as a medical resident — as promising.

Her 87-year-old mother wasn't sure a public post on social media was such a good idea.


"My mom is a person of faith," Hughes said. "I said, 'It'll get more people praying.' She said, 'Oh, put it out there!'"

Hundreds wished her well, from longtime supporters to political opponents. The video from her live legislative update had been viewed more than 2,000 times by Wednesday.

Hughes, a freshman senator and member of the Republican Senate majority, won a three-way primary race last year to take the seat being vacated by retired Sen. Bill Stoltze.

[Primary race to replace Stoltze heats up in Chugiak, Mat-Su]

She first joined the Legislature in May 2012 as a Gov. Sean Parnell appointee to fill the vacancy left by the death of the late Rep. Carl Gatto. She was elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2014.

Before that, Hughes served as policy affairs director for the Alaska Primary Care Association.

She plans to meet with her oncologist and surgeon when she gets back from Juneau to plan a course of treatment.

The Legislature is expected to finalize a capital budget in one day Thursday, she said — but she's packing three outfits just in case.

Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at