Jane Harris - her own story

We publish here the full text of Jane Harris's inspiring address at Relay For Life 2012.
Jane very kindly made this available to us shortly after that event. 

[ November 2012 news : It is with great sadness that we note here the passing last week of Jane Harris. 
Jane's enduring gift to us all is her heartfelt message of hope - and that shall always remain. ]

Hello, my name is Jane Harris and I am living with advanced stage 4 metastatic melanoma.

My journey started 13 years ago when I found a funny spot on my back that was itchy. So I took myself off to the dr to get it checked out. She didn’t think it was anything suspicious but took it off anyway. A couple of days later I got the call to say that it was a clark level 4 melanoma and I needed surgery to remove the surrounding tissue. So I had that done and went on my merry way not thinking too much about it. A couple of years later I noticed a lump in my armpit. Unfortunately my melanoma had come back and I had 25 lymph nodes removed. 

A year later it returned in the scar tissue and I underwent 25 doses of radiation and ended up with very nasty burns in my armpit.

I decided that I needed to get serious about this disease and really start looking at my health. This was the 3rd time I had melanoma and there is really nothing available to help get rid of it as the doctors keep saying “there’s no cure we’ll just keep cutting it out!” I thought there has to be something else I can do. I really wanted to take charge of my health.

I started doing acupuncture, taking Chinese herbs, exercising, eating a highly nutritious diet, being really positive and living in the present. Lots of prayer. I was living well. For 5 years I didn’t have melanoma I was cancer-free. I had regular checks every 3 – 6 mths and I had one chest x-ray every year. I was well so decided to have another baby. A beautiful baby boy.
When he was 7 weeks old I had my regular chest x-ray and they found that I had 3 melanomas on my lungs. So when my baby was only 10 weeks old I had major lung surgery. Not very pleasant at all. A really tough operation that one. This was the first time that I was hit by depression and fell into a big crevasse. I didn’t want to look after my baby or myself. 

I didn’t really care. Other people were cooking for me and cleaning and doing all the motherly duties that I should have been doing. I lost all hope. I was very very sad. My Chinese dr told me to get up and start looking after my baby, start living again. I might not get another cancer for 5 years and I would have wasted that time moping about and feeling sorry for myself. So I picked myself up and started living again.

(Pictured : Jane addressing the gathering while Judi O'Brien, Chair of RFL, looks on.)

It wasn’t until 2 years later when I started to get back pain that I knew something wasn’t right. This time it had come back with a vengeance. Instead of 3 tumours in my lungs I had over 50! It was through my bones and also in my spine and liver.

The doctors said “Sorry Jane it’s inoperable”. “Sorry Jane there’s really nothing we can do!” There was no hope! They took it all away from me. I found myself walking down this dark tunnel. There was no light. I couldn’t see a way out. It wasn’t fair. Why me? I have 2 gorgeous children who need me. A husband who loves me. I’m a good person. Why is this happening to me?

So I underwent more radiation and then decided to do a clinical trial for a new chemotherapy drug. In November of last year they told me it wasn’t working.

So why have I been able to survive this disease for so long? Why am I classified as a long-term survivor?

Because I have a belief that I will be well. I believe it’s not my time yet! I have something else in my life and that’s HOPE. It’s a simple 4 letter word to most of you but for people living with cancer it’s more than that. Hope becomes a 3 dimensional object. We want to embrace it, devour it, strap it to our chest and make it a part of our life forever. If we don’t have hope we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Hope comes in many forms:
It may be as simple as seeing your hair starting to grow back or receiving a text message from a friend.
Hope is renewing your licence for another 5 years.
Hope is when someone offers to drive you to a treatment.
Hope is when someone holds your hand when you are scared and lonely.
Hope is reading an inspirational book.
Hope is a day free of pain.
Hope is Petrea King and Ian Gawler.
Hope is when the dr tells you your scan is clear.
Hope is a day of no nausea or vomiting.
Hope is a hug from your kids.
Hope is a meal dropped at your door.
Hope is when your husband tells you that you are beautiful.
Hope is when you watch your sister give birth to a beautiful healthy baby boy.
Hope is when your friend asks if they can look after the kids to give you a rest.
Hope is when friends and family believe you can do it.
Hope is when your 6 year old gives you a hug and tells you that he will keep you safe.
Hope is just waking up the next morning.

Hope is all around us. We have to open our eyes and be aware that it is there and grab it at every opportunity because it’s what’s going to help you on your journey. Without Hope - there is no life. The cancer journey can be a hard one and you need to take whatever you can on the journey to help make it easier.

Cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Yes we have lost some incredibly wonderful people to this disease and we owe it to them to find a way so that other people don’t have to suffer the way they did. But you can live well with cancer but it’s up to you. Whatever treatment you decide to have, be it chemo, radiation, surgery you have to accept it totally and believe that it is the right treatment for you. You have to believe that it’s going to work. But you must balance it out with exercise, good nutrition (it’s essential to get some good food into you even if it’s in the form of vegetable juices because malnutrition is a real problem for cancer patients.) You have to get your mind into a good state – so if you can meditate do it every chance you can get. Spend the time with positive people, and live in the present. Let go of expectations of the life you think you should be living and accept the life you have been given.

Cancer has been a gift to me sometimes an annoying awful gift but it has taught me so much and made me a much better person. I appreciate life a whole lot more. I love a whole lot more and am loved a whole lot more.

I have to finish up but I just want to say when you wake up each morning, first be grateful that you are waking up, take a breath, smile and say “All is well” It will make your day a whole lot better. Thank you. Be well.

Other favourite sayings are:

If you believe then you will achieve.

Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.

 Jane Harris, 2012