Man of the moment’s King’s Birthday honour decades in the making

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Man of the moment’s King’s Birthday honour decades in the making

Giving back to the community has earned Mount Gambier man Richard Harry an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) as part of the King’s Birthday Honours celebrations.

After his own prostate cancer diagnosis in 2010, Richard helped instigate the formation of the Limestone Coast Prostate Cancer Support Group (LCPCSG) and has strongly advocated for a radiation treatment facility to be made available in Mount Gambier.

“I had prostate cancer. I was looking for information and a support group. However, the closest support group was at Murray Bridge,” he said.

“When your treating specialist says you have got the big ‘C’ it frightens the living daylights out of you.

“I ended up having a radical prostatectomy after my diagnosis, but during that time I was trying to find out more information and wanted to talk with other men about why they had chosen particular types of treatment.”

After his surgery, the retired dairy farmer and business owner joined with the Rotary Club of Mount Gambier West to facilitate a public meeting to discuss the viability of establishing a local support group.

“We had urologist Professor Villis Marshall come down from Adelaide to speak to us and we also had members of an Adelaide based support group address a crowd of about 150 people,” Richard said.

Following the meeting, LCPCSG was formed in October 2010 with Richard appointed at the helm as chair.

“At the inaugural meeting we decided it was not just to be a men’s group, because any cancer impacts the whole family and we wanted to include the women as well. I think we had 20 odd families at that point in time,” Richard said.

The group provides support, compassion and understanding to men and their families following a prostate cancer diagnosis.

“Over the years it has been interesting to see that we have a transient membership, some people need information and assistance early in the piece, they have their treatment, they find out it’s not always a life sentence and they get on with their life and they walk away from the group,” Richard said.

“Others have stayed on; they enjoy the camaraderie of a group of guys that have been through the same sort of thing.”

The LCPCSG’s functions evolved to include fundraising and lobbying government for equipment and resources.

“We joined with WIN Television to be part of their annual golf charity event which raised funds for us to be able to provide $15,000 to upgrade the chemo chairs at the Mount Gambier Hospital,” Richard said.

“People are there in those chairs for a number of hours when they receive chemo and we thought that it was not just men with prostate cancer that were benefiting from this, it was women with breast cancer, it was kids with childhood cancers, it had a whole community benefit.”

Richard said community groups and organisations from throughout the region got behind the group to support its endeavours to provide support to men diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“We worked with the Male Bag Foundation, WIN TV, Bendigo Bank, Limestone Coast councils, Naracoorte Area Health Advisory Council and local individuals and businesses to raise $198,000 to purchase a portable Transperineal Biopsy machine in 2019,” he said.

“The machine is used by visiting urologists in Mount Gambier and Naracoorte and reduces the need for men to travel to Adelaide or Melbourne for the procedure.

“I think we have an absolutely magic community, we work together, it’s not just our community in Mount Gambier, it’s the whole of the Limestone Coast and I feel so privileged that we live in such a caring area.”

Richard was also one of the driving forces behind the appointment of a part-time specialist prostate cancer nurse in the Limestone Coast in 2020.

“We were trying to get a nurse for the Limestone Coast as the only prostate nurses at that time were based in Adelaide,” Richard said.

“We were happy when Tracy Bryant was appointed by the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.

“She has more than 250 clients and provides information and support to help men come to terms with living with prostate cancer.

“When you can give them information, factual information, that comes from PCFA, covered by research they start to settle and realise it starts with a diagnosis and does not necessarily end with death.

“I have had guys who have rung me saying they have just been diagnosed. They are extremely upset, and I mean extremely. They feel they are going to die.

“I know how they feel, because that’s how I felt. I had been through it, I knew how they felt.”

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Australian men and Richard has some advice to all men over 50 – get a PSA test.

“Fellas, get yourself tested. I have seen some good men die with it, and it’s not pretty,” he said.

“We do not want that happening, and why should it? If we can do something about it, let’s do it, it’s a simple blood test at the doctor these days.”

The 80-year-old is also an active member of the Limestone Coast Radiation Treatment Working Group, which was established in 2022.

“I guess you could say I have a vested interest, that could be one of the treatments I could utilise down the track,” Richard said.

The group circulated a petition which garnered 20,000 signatures from across the Limestone Coast in support of establishing a radiation treatment centre in the region.

“We are the only state in the country that does not have a radiation centre outside of a capital city. Why should Mount Gambier, the largest city outside of Adelaide, not have something like this?” Richard said.

Members of the working group presented the petition to state parliament in May 2023 and Richard, Lachie Haynes and Dee Carmody fronted the independent review parliamentary committee that followed in June 2023.

As a result, the State Government is currently undertaking a feasibility study to assess the need for a radiation treatment facility for the region. This work is expected to be completed by mid-June 2024.

“I am hoping like crazy that we can get a treatment facility here,” Richard said.

“If successful, it will reduce the anxiety around travel costs and family commitments for up to two months at a time while in Adelaide or Warrnambool, Victoria for the radiation treatment for standard cancers.”

Richard was formally recognised for his advocacy work when he was presented with the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia’s Max Gardner Award for Distinguished Service in 2021.

Richard was humble when told he would be recipient of the OAM.

“When notified, I saw it and thought it was a scam. Looked into it and found out it was not a scam,” Richard said with a relieved laugh.

“The powers that be in Canberra evidently do a fair bit of research into it.”

Richard is a husband, father and grandfather, and said it was the backing of his family that had allowed him to dedicate his time as a volunteer.

“Receiving this award is a great honour. There’s no doubt about that, but it’s also been a privilege I believe for me to be involved with the groups that I have been involved with,” he said.

Beyond his dedication to raising cancer awareness, Richard has had a long-term involvement with the local CFS; he received a Paul Harris Fellow for his involvement with the Gambier Lakes Rotary Club between 1992 to 1997; and was involved in Scouts from 1976 until 1992, serving as a leader for Port MacDonnell and then a district leader.

“Any volunteer needs the backing of their family to be able to do these things,” he said.

Richard wholeheartedly agrees that his number one supporter is his wife of 56 years, Heather, along with their children.

“They have always backed me, which is pretty important,” he said.

“For instance, Heather and I were about to have dinner when the CFS pager went off and I leave her to have dinner on her own.

“Another time we were going away when the pager went off and that trip had been postponed until after the incident was completed.”

Richard recalls he first decided to commit to giving back to the community when he joined the CFS in 1975.

“It’s so hard for all groups to get volunteers. People are time poor in different ways,” he said.

“I feel very honoured, but I still feel there are a lot of people out there that do a lot more than me.

“I am just a cog in the groups that I have been involved with, I am just part of it. It takes a lot of people to bring these things together.

“I believe I have been part of a pretty fantastic community. Perhaps I’m biased. I feel so strongly in giving back to our community because they have been so helpful.”

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