Progressive Conservative MLA Dorothy Shephard says she was diagnosed with breast cancer after a lump was found during a regular breast exam last week. 

Determined to beat the disease, the Saint John Lancaster MLA announced Tuesday she will take an immediate leave of absence from politics.

"We are preparing for a surgical date and then followup treatment," Shephard, a former minister of healthy and inclusive communities, told reporters at the legislature.

Her office will remain open, and her staff will be there to help, she said. 

MLA hopeful

While Shephard "is fighting this illness, her constituents are encouraged to continue to engage her office in Saint John," said a statement released by Bob Fowlie, a spokesperson for the opposition Tories.  

Shephard said she is hopeful. 

"The prognosis is good. This is early stage."

Shephard was elected in September 2010 and two years later was appointed to the cabinet under former premier David Alward. 

She said she hopes to return to the legislature as soon as possible and to run again in the provincial election next year.

A reminder to women

"Her fellow MLA colleagues are happy to support her and provide any assistance when possible," said the statement from Fowlie.

Shephard, who made the announcement in the company of fellow PC members of the legislature, was grateful for the support she's received at a difficult time. 

"I know I have all the support I need," she said. "We get through this and we get back to work." 

Shephard used the occasion to remind women to get breast exams.  

Liberals express support 

In the legislature, Premier Brian Gallant described Shephard as a strong person and offered the Liberal Party's support to her and her family.

"We have no doubt that the member for Saint John Lancaster will battle this terrible disease and will be sitting back in the legislature," Gallant said.  

He said many people have been affected by cancer, and he hoped that Shephard's strong will would help her through this difficult time. 

"We certainly invite the Opposition to let us know, and we will certainly be pleased to do whatever we can to help support her as she goes through the battle of this terrible disease."