A fundraiser lunch will be held this Sunday at the Inlet Hotel Inverloch to raise money for Leongatha Mary MacKillop student Sophie Harris who is undergoing treatment for bone cancer (see details below).

By Ash’lee Charlton

“I AM going to beat this,” are the words of brave Leongatha schoolgirl Sophie Harris as she undergoes treatment for an aggressive form of bone cancer. Sophie, the daughter of former local footballer Tim Harris and wife Ana was just 14 when she was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in August this year. The illness was discovered while the family were spending a year in Ana’s home country of Argentina after the keen tennis player began to experience a sore left arm and shoulder. “Sophie loves to play tennis. She used to play in Inverloch and Leongatha before we moved,” Sophie’s mum Ana said. “She had started to complain about her shoulder and arm bothering her, saying that she could not get comfortable when she was trying to sleep.” The family believed the soreness may have been sports related but visits to the chiropractor and massages failed to help. “About six weeks after that Sophie went horse riding with a friend and when she came home she said ‘Mum, have a look at this’,” Ana said. “There was a lump on her shoulder that looked and felt like a small rock. It was really hard and solid.” Ana said husband Tim, a keen sportsman, knew straight away the lump was not sports related, and the family immediately sought medical advice. “So we had X-rays done and they showed that it was a tumour,” Ana said. “She was diagnosed on August 28 with bone cancer, a particularly aggressive form which moves very quickly.” Plans to move back to Australia at the end of the year were quickly changed and the family returned to Melbourne within days so treatment could begin. “We found out on August 28 in Argentina and on September 5 we arrived in Melbourne,” Ana said. “On arrival we literally left our bags at our auntie’s house and went straight to The Royal Children’s Hospital. “We had all the tests done and it was confirmed that Sophie has Osteosarcoma.” So aggressive is the three stage cancer, that most patients do not show symptoms until the cancer has already reached stage two or three. Sophie is currently in stage three. “Sophie’s main tumour is in the shoulder, but it had already spread to her lungs,” Ana said. “She started treatment almost immediately, but the diagnosis is not brilliant, simply because it is such an aggressive form of cancer. “She is in stage three which is the final stage but in saying that the doctors said ‘we are going to give it a fight’.” The cancer, while not well known, can be common in children generally aged between 10 and 20, developing during the period of rapid growth that occurs in adolescence, as a teenager matures into an adult. After recently going through her third round of chemotherapy, Sophie will have scans done next week to see if the treatment has been successful. “She has now been in treatment for two months and on December 5 she will have a proper scan to see if the chemotherapy has done its job,” Ana said. “Hopefully it has worked and then we can start looking at surgery.” By “worked”, it is hoped the chemotherapy will have destroyed the “mother cell” in the tumour. Any tumours remaining following the chemotherapy are then hoped to be surgically removed. “If everything goes to plan and the chemotherapy does its job, Sophie will still lose her left arm due to the effects of the tumour,” Ana said. But Ana says for the Harris’ this means the chemotherapy is working, a positive in an otherwise incomprehensible situation for any family. Despite her young age (she turned 15 this month, Ana said Sophie has been overwhelmed and humbled by the support she has received over the past few months. As has the entire Harris family. “Sophie is totally aware of the situation and says she will beat this. She is already making plans to go back to school next year,” Ana said. “She has been incredibly graceful throughout all of it. On diagnosis, we as a family had a couple of days to mourn and digest the news and then we thought ‘OK, what has to be done?’ “And then have just been putting one foot in front of the other.” Support for the family has been incredible says Ana, particularly from local school friends of Sophie who have been sending letters and cards to the 15 year-old. “People really do come out of the woods in situations like this to help out,” Ana said. “We have all been really touched. Sophie has received letters from students she went to school with before we went to Argentina, and it is really lovely. “This whole experience has been a real eye-opener for us. You always know you have your family and friends around you, but we have been receiving support from people we don’t even know, all the way from Phillip Island to Dumbalk.” It is hoped Sophie will be home from The Royal Children’s Hospital where she receives treatment for Christmas and Ana says she is looking forward to seeing her grandmother who is flying over from Argentina. “Her grandmother is coming out for 10 weeks to stay. Sophie just loves her and it will be brilliant to have another set of hands,” she said. “The doctors have said Sophie’s treatment will be very long and very intense, but for now we are hopeful to have her home at Christmas and hopefully the scan in December will be good news and we will be looking at surgery. “At the moment, Sophie’s is in hospital but is feeling really well and is in great spirits.”

How you can help Sophie

LOCALS are invited to attend a ‘Family Lunch’ fundraiser to support Sophie Harris and her family as she continues her fight against bone cancer. The lunch will be held at the Inverloch Inlet Hotel this Sunday, December 2 from noon until 2pm. All proceeds from the event will go toward helping Sophie and her family during this time. Lunch is $30 per head for adults and $10 for children and includes one course with pasta salad and garlic bread. To show you support, contact ‘Hoots’ at the Inlet Hotel on 5674 1481 for bookings and enquiries. All welcome.