INSPIRATIONS: Defying death threats and cancer for wedding

Matt Biggin and Kerry Harvey at Christmas
Matt Biggin and Kerry Harvey at Christmas

A TRULY remarkable 24-year-old passed away from pancreatic cancer on Saturday (February 22).

Kerry Harvey worked at St Richard’s Hospital and lived in Bognor Regis, after having studied to be a paramedic at the University of Portsmouth.

She had returned to her family’s home in Birmingham to receive treatment to try to prolong her life after she was diagnosed in April 2013.

Pancreatic Cancer Action, with whom Kerry was helping to publicise the illness, said: “We were very saddened to hear the news that the beautiful and inspiring Kerry Harvey passed away, aged 24, on Saturday morning.

“She was a brave and courageous young woman who touched so many hearts. Since her diagnosis in April 2013, she devoted a significant amount of time to raising awareness of pancreatic cancer.

“Kerry has campaigned with selfless vigour and, despite being very ill, has faced criticism for her contribution to our most recent awareness campaign. Her strength and fortitude we and other pancreatic cancer sufferers everywhere, their families and friends are very grateful for.

“Our thoughts now are with her husband Matt and all of her family and friends at this difficult time.

“May you rest in peace Kerry. We will never forget you.

As recently as February 13, she gave an interview to the Observer about her ongoing struggle and her hopes for the future.

The article was in this week’s paper as our Inspirations feature.

Here is the interview in full:

Kerry Harvey

WEDDING plans, flat hunting and deciding where to go for a honeymoon.

Typical troubles for a bride-to-be, but for 24-year-old Kerry Harvey, life is anything but typical.

Diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer, she has been given months to live by doctors, but still plans to marry her fiancé Matthew Biggin in May.

For the former admin assistant at St Richard’s Hospital, who lived in Bognor Regis before her diagnosis, the past year has seen her life take a devastating turn.

Things began in November, 2012, when she had what she describes as a ‘stomach ache that wouldn’t go away’.

After it got worse, she went to the A&E at St Richard’s after work, where they gave her painkillers and referred her to another department, with one possibility being she suffered a miscarriage.

“I carried on taking the painkillers and I was losing my appetite. I was getting itchy hands and feet that wouldn’t go away,” she said.

At one point in January, 2013, she was doubled up at work in pain and was taken by a nurse to A&E.

Doctors suspected it was a stomach ulcer and she was given more painkillers and sent home.

“I went home and the next day woke up at about 6.30am and I was in so much pain I couldn’t even get out of bed,” she remembers. “I had to reach over and call an ambulance. I was on my own because Matt had got up and gone to work.”

She was whisked to hospital and then things started to move more swiftly. She had an ultrasound and then an emergency CT scan.

“In my head I was thinking, from working in the area I did, we dealt with cancer patients and I kind of knew generally that CTs weren’t for stomach ulcers. In my head I was getting a bit worried.”

The tests confirmed she had cancer on her liver. She immediately called Matt and her parents, who drove to Chichester from Birmingham through a blizzard to be with her.

Days later she had a biopsy and after three weeks, results showed she had pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours.

Opting to have treatment closer to her parents, rather than at Southampton General Hospital, she and Matt headed to Birmingham and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where in April, 2013, she was told she had stage-four incurable cancer and any treatment she had would just be life-lengthening.

“I started chemotherapy three days later,” she said. During this time more tumours were found on her pancreas, liver, lungs and lymph nodes.

However, the treatment worked better than anyone had anticipated.

“The oncologist was very pleased. She was over the moon,” said Kerry. “She said it was a far better reaction than before. She was happy for me to go back to Bognor.”

They moved back and Kerry was even looking at going back to work. But then things took another turn for the worst.

“We were getting along fine for a while and then probably at the start of October, I started losing my appetite again. It got to the point where I was getting stomach pains again and really bad backache.”

One evening, they went out for a meal with Matt’s parents.

“They brought the main course out and I burst into tears because I couldn’t face eating it. At that point I knew something was seriously wrong.

“I went to A&E four times. Once a friend drove me and three times by ambulance, just because of the pain I was in. It was just horrific. I was writhing on the bed at one point just because of the pain. They finally did a CT scan on the fourth time I went to A&E and that was the end of October. They said the tumour on my pancreas was 50 per cent bigger than it had been the first time around.”

Tumours had also spread to her spine.

The couple returned to Birmingham and on December 5, 2013, Kerry had radiotherapy.

“It got to the point that the tumours along my spine meant I couldn’t walk without assistance.

“Then I started a new chemotherapy. I had two lots of that chemo and after the second lot I was sitting at home and I had noticed I was starting to get lumps on my head.

“They were small, they almost looked like really big spots but without the head.”

She also found lumps on her breast, arm, stomach and back.

Scans showed the lumps on her head were cancerous and her oncologist said the new chemotherapy treatment was not working.

“She said because it wasn’t working, there was no other chemo treatment that had been proven to work on the type of cancer I had. She wanted to focus on end-of-life care,” said Kerry.

However, she asked to return to the old chemotherapy treatment, as this had previously been successful. She persuaded her oncologist to try it.

She continues to fight the cancer and hopes the treatment will keep it at bay even longer while she looks forward to her wedding.

Her father, Alan, has also started to undergo chemotherapy recently. Her mother Eileen has been looking after him.

A ‘brief encounter’ and a new year proposal

MaTT proposed to Kerry on New Year’s Day and the wedding is planned for May 9.

The couple met in 2009, when she was returning to Birmingham for Christmas from the University of Portsmouth.

Her train was delayed at Southampton station and she had to wait for three hours. The next thing she knew, another bag had been put next to hers.

“A voice goes: ‘You look a bit peeved off. I thought I would come and cheer you up’,” said Kerry.

The couple spent the time chatting and Matt turned out to be getting the same train.

When he got off, he left a piece of paper with his phone number folded up on the table.

She texted him to say she was home and they exchanged messages over Christmas and New Year.

Then in January, he messaged: “When are we having this first date then?”

On January 9, she cooked him tea, making bobotie – the South African meal of curried meat and creamy topping – and they have not looked back since.

Hard-hitting campaign

KERRY shot to national attention after fronting a ‘hard-hitting’ campaign by Pancreatic Cancer Action to raise awareness.

The campaign drew controversy as it featured the slogan ‘I wish I had breast cancer’, because of its high survival rates.

“PCA have been a really good support for me from when I first got diagnosed,” Kerry said. “It was from talking with

myself and a lot of other patients that they got the ‘wish I had breast cancer and testicular cancer’ line.

“Really, it’s not just older people.

“The average age for it is 70, but younger people do get it.

“It’s important that people are aware of the symptoms.”