Richard receives top award

ORDER OF AUSTRALIA: Mount Gambier/Berrin volunteer Richard Harry has received an OAM. Picture: CHARLOTTE VARCOE

Charlotte Varcoe

RENOWN Mount Gambier/Berrin resident Richard Harry has been recognised with a prestigious title.

After more than a decade of service to those experiencing hardships relating to prostate cancer, Mr Harry was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM).

First diagnosed with prostate cancer 14 years ago, Mr Harry went in search of support and information.

“I was hunting around for the closest support group and that was in Murray Bridge,” Mr Harry said.

“After I had my treatment there was a public meeting held at Tenison Woods College and I think there were about 150 people.

“Subsequently from that the Limestone Coast Prostate Cancer Support Group was formed.”

Throughout his time in the group Mr Harry had been on the board, taking on a range of titles including chairperson, vice chair or secretary.

Speaking on the award, Mr Harry said he was made aware he was shortlisted a number of months ago and discovered he was successful more recently.

“I started to laugh because I really thought it was a scam,” he said.

“It was not until I rang one of the phone numbers to verify it but I found out I officially received it a fortnight ago.

“I am very proud and honoured but there is another side to it as well.”

He said he felt privileged to have the opportunity to support and give back to the community – something he felt strongly about.

“It has been an absolute pleasure and privilege to be able to help people,” Mr Harry said.

“When people ring and tell you they have been diagnosed with cancer they think they are going to die.

“Regrettably some of our members have died because it has not been caught early enough.”

He said it was a scary thing, being diagnosed with cancer with many patients being frightened at first and wondering where their life was going to go.

Despite dealing with cancer on a daily basis through the support group, Mr Harry said there had been a range of highlights including raising and donating $15,000 into the upgrade of the chemotherapy ward at the Mount Gambier and District Hospital and help funding the biopsy machines at both Mount Gambier and Naracoorte hospitals.

“Our support group has also been involved with the South East Field Days for a number of years where we approach men and ask if they have been tested,” Mr Harry said.

“We are seeing more men say yes and take control over their own life whether it be because of promotion or what but there are more men being aware and getting themselves tested.

“You do not want to fail as a mentor and we used to have more women than men getting breast cancer but it has only just flipped – it is pretty even now.”

During his time volunteering, Mr Harry said he was proud to have assisted many with their diagnosis.

“It does play with your mind and many other guys within the support group at some stage or another have put their hand up to say they have been going through depression or anxiety,” he said.

“Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia figures show there is more than a 70 per cent increased risk of suicide with men diagnosed with prostate cancer and that has happened in the Limestone Coast.”

While Mr Harry said ultimately he would love to see a cure for prostate cancer, he understood the difficulties.

“What works for one cancer does not necessarily work for another and the foundation has been heavily involved in research where things are being improved including treatments,” Mr Harry said.

“Radiation years ago got close to the source of cancer but now they are within fractions of a millimetre which is amazing.”

As well as being a founder and strong volunteer for the support group, Mr Harry also took time to be involved in the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia as an ambassador and central chapter committee member.

He has also been involved in the Country Fire Service since 1975 and the Rotary Club of Mount Gambier Lakes Between 1992 and 1997 for which he received a Paul Harris Fellow.

Mr Harry was also involved in Scouts from 1976 until 1992 where he served as a leader for Port MacDonnell before becoming a district leader.

He remains on the board of the Limestone Coast Radiotherapy Working Group, was a member of the Mount Gambier Men’s Shed from 2009 until 2010 and was an inaugural committee member of the National Drysdale Sheep Breeders Association.

Mr Harry has also received a number of other awards including the Max Gardner Award for Distinguished Service, 40 years of Country Fire Service Medal and National Medal from 1997, 2003 and 2015.

He was also awarded the City of Mount Gambier Citizen of the Year earlier this year.

“It is all very well for me to get this award as a volunteer but there are people behind you the whole time,” Mr Harry said.

“There have been jobs I should be doing at home which have had to be put on hold or somebody else in the family has to do it because I am not there.

“Your family has a very important aspect of doing any volunteering and it does not matter whether it is sport or what, it really becomes a family thing.”