Kara Harry has an infectious smile and breaks out in the type of rapturous laughter that you can’t help but to join in. But behind this Noosaville mum’s strong and vivacious personality is an unfolding and heartbreaking health crisis.
The mum-of-three has been diagnosed with brain cancer and has endured a year like no other undergoing three complex brain surgeries and six weeks of gruelling radiation.
It all started in August last year when Kara was starting to suffer headaches and numbness on the left side of her face.
“It was gradually happening, but I’m a busy mum, I had three small businesses and I wasn’t really taking notice,” she recalls. Following a visit to her GP and a CT scan, Kara was told of a large mass on her brain. Admitted to Noosa Private Hospital for one night, Kara was transferred to a Brisbane hospital where she underwent urgent surgery to remove a large tumour sitting on her brain.
Six days later doctors told Kara the worst possible news – she had Stage 4 Glioblastoma and just 15 months to live.
“It was a big shock. I thought it would be benign – they would chop it out and I’d go home and heal. I should have clicked when they said to bring my family in…. I think for an hour the whole room was silent. My son Ash was the first phone call I made when the neurologists told me my diagnosis. It was the hardest call I’ve ever had to make. He’d just had his 21st birthday and it broke me. I cried then and that’s the only time I’ve cried – telling my son that and then talking about it. I’m crying for his heart.”
Kara’s daughter Lucynda, 10, and Mason, 7, are also processing the news. “Mason has been processing it slowly – he just knows it as ‘cancer’ and I’m glad it didn’t hit him too hard.”
Despite being told her condition is terminal, Kara has remained steadfast in her willpower and positive mindset – there’s no way this 40-year-old is accepting a time limit on her life, and within her inspiring journey Kara has also managed to build and launch her business Little Ladies Workshops.
“With Glioblastoma, they put you on your deathbed, but cancer is messing with the wrong lady,” she says.
“I’m putting my story out there so people don’t give up on themselves. People say ‘this lady has been through hell and back and she is still smiling’ and that makes me happy that I can inspire others.”
In December last year, just days before her 40th birthday, Kara’s tumour returned and a second operation was needed.
“I went into that surgery with this mindset – we’ve done this before and I can do it again and I bounced out of that surgery within 48 hours like nothing happened.”
But six months later more tumours were found and a third operation ended with 36 staples to Kara’s skull and an agonising recovery. “It was intense. They cut a big hole at the top of my skull and there were two tumours near my right eye.”
Recently, the single mum spent six weeks travelling to and from the Sunshine Coast University Hospital (SCUH) in Birtinya for radiation in a bid to kill the inoperable tumours near her eye.
“The radiation team at SCUH are just beautiful, they are vibrant and so lovely.”
It’s one of the reasons Kara has thrown her support behind health foundation Wishlist’s $14 million project Wishlist Centre currently under construction opposite SCUH which will help to provide fellow patients a circle-of-care.
Wishlist Centre is set to become Australia’s first facility to offer patient accommodation, primary healthcare and complementary therapies under one roof.
“My mum lives in Bundaberg, my 22-year-old son and his family are 10 hours away in Emerald. Bringing your family together in those times (while in hospital) is really important Especially with young children – if you can have extra therapies or consultations away from the hospital environment, I think that’s particularly important, and if I could have left the hospital, walked across the road and had the flexibility to come and go pending how I was feeling – that would be really lovely.”
Wishlist CEO Lisa Rowe said the Centre will help countless patients and families in Noosa, Cooroy and Tewantin.
“Sometimes there is a notion that if you live in Noosa you may not need the help of the Sunshine Coast University Hospital, but there is an increasing number of patients – especially cancer patients – who need to receive their treatment here,” Ms Rowe said.
“Driving to and from treatment each day for six weeks is gruelling – imagine the relief if patients could stay right across the road with their carer or a family member and access those extra but very vital support services in the one place.”
Around 95% of Noosa patients undergoing radiation therapy at the Adem Crosby Cancer Centre (at SCUH) over the past six months have been aged over 55 years.
A high proportion of patients experience financial difficulties, issues with transport or are living alone and/or do not have family support close by.
Wishlist has launched their Donate a Virtual Brick appeal to raise $2 million by 2022 to make Wishlist Centre all it can be for patients and families.
Help your local health foundation at wishlist.org.au