Rebecca steers a new course in life post lymphoma
Rebecca Harris now leads a happier and better quality life than prior to her diagnosis with lymphoma last year.
These days the musician is fanatical about her diet, has made major lifestyle changes, and does things she’s never done before.
“I used to be a complete workaholic,” said Rebecca, describing her “crazy exciting life”, split between Australia and Europe, lecturing in cello at the Charles Darwin University, playing in the Darwin Symphony Orchestra, busking and performing at festivals in Germany with contemporary band, worldfly, among other things.
But Rebecca no longer lives to work. She enjoys organic food, meditates daily, doesn’t cut back on sleep, dedicates time to be with her friends and to walk her dog, Buster, and has aimed to remove “anything toxic” from her life.
“I tended to push my body very hard and I attribute much of my illness to that. I’m pretty good at managing being tired,” explained Rebecca, who first noticed a lump in her neck in April 2009.
She visited her doctor several times but no tests were carried out as the doctor opted to “wait and see”. In July 2009, Rebecca embarked on a five-month intensive music tour, travelling 16,000km around Europe.
“I was getting more and more tired, and skinnier and skinner,” said Rebecca, who after returning to Australia, started a new job in January 2010, managing a music school.
During a visit to a physiotherapist, Rebecca was told the lump in her neck was definitely not a ganglion (cyst or tissue mass), so she had more tests.
“The bloods were super clear, but blood tests don’t necessarily indicate non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL),” she said.
“Because the lump in my neck looked suspect, it was removed in February and around the same time, I came down with pneumonia which really knocked the stuffing out of me.”
The biopsy showed the lump was cancerous. After a raft of tests including PET and CT scans, a bone marrow biopsy and ultrasounds, Rebecca’s diagnosis was confirmed. She had follicular, low grade NHL, and this turned her life around.
“Because it was stage one, it is potentially curable, and I’m going to hold on to that hope,” she said.
“I shed rivers of tears initially and looked at what I really wanted to do with my life. If I have two years or 20 years, I’m going to make sure they’re good years.”
Before treatment began, Rebecca studied everything she could get her hands on about the properties of the food she ate, as well as the chemicals, colours and additives in products she used, like make-up and shampoo. She threw away hundreds of dollars worth of products made up of potentially carcinogenic ingredients.
She did a course in Buteyko breathing with Victorian instructor, Brian Firth, which helped her dramatically both with breathing and learning to relax.
“I wanted to try and get as well as I could myself. I’m sure it made a difference,” said Rebecca, who no longer drinks alcohol and has removed salt and sugar from her diet.
She started radiotherapy in April last year, confident and comforted to be among the first group of patients to go through the new radiotherapy unit in Darwin.
Her family and friends were towers of strength and came from Adelaide and Sydney to stay with her during treatment. During these therapy sessions that finished in early May, she listened to music.
“Music is hugely important and incredibly healing for me – it’s my religion. A piece of music can calm you and take you away from a bad situation.”
She also described the support she got from the Leukaemia Foundation as “phenomenal”.
“They’d call each week, and just being able to talk to someone if you needed to was very comforting and valuable. They also assisted me with transport to and from treatment.”
Rebecca said she enjoyed the opportunity to give a little something back to the Leukaemia Foundation when she performed Ave Maria on the cello at the Foundation’s Light the Night event in Darwin.
In August 2010, Rebecca was given remission status. Encouraged to lead as normal a life as possible, she went overseas in September with worldfly for seven weeks, including a spontaneous trip to Dubai to visit a close friend.
December saw her quit her university job of nine years to take time out to pursue “good health, music and the simple things in life”.
This year she plans to tour and record a second album in Europe with worldfly, but has set some rules.
“I’ll only tour for six weeks at a time, allowing me to recover and return to Australia. Finding a balance between quality of life, time for me and my friends, as well as my work, are high on my list of priorities,” said Rebecca.
“I’m looking forward to this new direction.”
She also will develop the new classical group, Darwin Chamber Players, do a little teaching, play with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra and take time to play the cello for herself.
“I can’t wait for the opportunity to garden, cook and do yoga, as well as renovate furniture (one of my many quirks), not to mention spending time with my family, friends and dog.
“Early last year was the worst time of my life and also the best. These days I try to look at life through new eyes, as if I’m a child – trying not to live in the past or the future, but in the now, aiming to be compassionate and not judgmental. Most importantly, I try really hard not to sweat the small stuff.”