Harrison Fry’s nickname is ‘Head-banger’ – given to him by his friends because of his love of the rock group ACDC. He plays bass guitar and enjoys singing.
The 22-year-old is studying at North Metropolitan TAFE for a Certificate III in Library Information Services. He enjoys research, reading online and technology and has aspirations to be a librarian.
Dig a little deeper and it becomes clear why Harrison, from Bull Creek, has such an interest in research.
“I’ve done a lot of online research in my lifetime, it may sound dramatic but research is the reason I am here today.”
Harrison was diagnosed with a rare and advanced form of cancer as a child. He’s faced some dark times. At one stage he was given a terminal diagnosis.
It was, he says, research that saved him.
My amazing oncologist in WA developed a new chemotherapy regime. He worked in collaboration with a specialist in America, and it led to my tumour shrinking.Harrison Fry
Rewind the clock and Harrison, named after Harrison Ford in the Star Wars movies, his mum was a big Star Wars fan, was an active child.
“My mum said I used to climb ladders, was very cheeky and active. I was that child that was into everything. I was the daredevil, but then it stopped and I became more withdrawn.”
Harrison believes that was the first indication of the cancer which came to dominate his life.
Eye cancer diagnosis
When he was nine-years-old, his parents realised he wasn’t growing or putting on weight. As a result his teachers thought he had problems with his vision, as he wasn’t able to track things. However a diagnosis wasn’t easy. He saw an occupational therapist, several doctors and a specialist over a period of many months.
“The specialist said I had cancer encased in my left optic nerve, encompassing the optic chiasm. The diagnosis wasn’t good.”
Harrison underwent major de-bulking surgery which took 15 hours. The specialists thought that the cancer would remain stable and not cause too many problems, but it didn’t behave for long.
“Although I was told it was non-invasive, I had a respite of just over two years. When the cancer came back, it arrived with a vengeance.”
Harrison started having severe headaches when he was 12. One night the pain was so strong he was taken by emergency ambulance to the hospital.
“The pain was indescribable, I went into the operating theatre again and specialists told me the cancer had gone crazy.”
“It had worsened and had metastasised. The cancer had gone to the brain and into the spine,” he explains.
“It was a difficult time as the diagnosis was terminal cancer.”
For his mum Ros, the news was unbearable.
“I was told he had 12 weeks left to live. As a parent that was the worst you could face, but no one gave up hope.”Ros Fry
New cancer regime
His cancer specialist Dr Nick Gottardo started researching chemotherapy. In consultation with a top cancer expert in America, he decided to give Harrison a different chemo regime. This led to him administering three types of established chemotherapy drugs which all together were incredibly strong.
“This chemo was deemed too potent to be used on a child, but we had nothing to lose,” explains Ros.
During a gap from the cycle of this chemotherapy, Harrison went on holiday with his mum and dad and sister to Disneyland in Los Angeles. It was made possible by the Make a Wish Foundation.
“At the start of the holiday I was very low and withdrawn and wanted to go home. I was worried the new mix of chemo didn’t seem to be working.”
I turned the corner when I was at was at Sea World watching a pod of dolphins, there were seven of them fooling around and making noises. That moment made me realise that life was worth living.Harrison Fry
“I realised I shouldn’t give up hope, ever.”
Turning a corner
On his return home he continued the cycle of chemotherapy. The cancer returned again when he was fourteen-and-a-half. He underwent more of the same strong chemotherapy.
Harrison has been stable with no recurrence over the past seven years.
“I am completely blind in my left eye and my right eye has been damaged because of ongoing treatment, but I am lucky to be here,” he explains.
“Because the cancer presses on my pituitary gland and has grown into my Hypothalamus, I am on lifelong medication to control my hormones, boost my energy levels and to prevent any seizures.”
Harrison is grateful for ongoing support, not just from medical experts, but also from VisAbility and the Willetton Primary School community. They are all helping to boost his spirits and lessen the stress of his journey.
“I am good friends with Ryan Honschooten, the Youth Support Officer at VisAbility who has had eye cancer. He has done so much for me. I am part of the over 18s social group at VisAbility.”
Harrison features in a new Visionaries film produced by VisAbility. It aims to empower young people facing vision loss.
Leading a full and active life
Harrison plays in a band for people with disabilities called ‘Music Rocks’. He counts Pink and Ed Sheeran as his favourite musicians, and has seen Kylie Minogue in concert, going with a friend he met in hospital.
Harrison is a keen PlayStation gamer, but he likes to spend time outdoors. He water skis, kneeboards, bike rides and one day he hopes to get that job working in a library.
A firm believer in ‘giving back to what you’ve been given,’ Harrison also hopes to do some volunteering.
For anyone experiencing dark times, he has some profound words of encouragement.
“You only have one shot at this life and it may be shorter than you think, but you need to make the most of it.”
“The only thing you really need is positivity. Positivity is your torchlight. Know where you are and where you are going, what you are dealing with and how to deal with it.”