Adam Harvey

Adam Harvey’s trek for pancreatic cancer

I’m marching around the gritty streets of inner Jakarta, trying not to trip over a feral cat, or fall into an open drain, or get demolished by the merciless traffic … while wearing my 16kg son in a backpack.

I’m drenched in sweat. It’s 7am and 32 degrees and the air is so humid that it’s like breathing underwater. My son is sticking his fingers in my ears.

If I live, it’s for a good cause. I’m training for the Gutsy Challenge – a five day walk in central Australia that’s raising money for research into gastrointestinal diseases, like pancreatic cancer.

I have a personal connection to the disease. My dad, Peter Harvey (pictured below with mum) died of pancreatic cancer four years ago.

The first sign anything was wrong was at the end of 2012, when he and mum were on holidays in Venice.

They saw all the sights: St Mark’s Square, the Grand Canal … and the emergency room of the city’s hospital, after Dad turned a vivid shade of yellow.

He felt fine, but the doctors were so concerned they suggested he cut short his trip and return to Australia to see a specialist.

It turned out a tumor on his pancreas was blocking his bile duct – that’s why he turned yellow – and it was too late for surgery.  Chemotherapy and drugs would slow the cancer, but not much. You can’t live without your pancreas.

This was all news to dad, who took on the cancer and its exhausting rounds of chemo with cheerful stoicism. “That’s good news!” he told the doctor one day, after he was told he probably had a couple of weeks left. “No it’s not, Peter,” said the surprised doctor, who didn’t understand that Dad was always looking for the upside.

Unfortunately, I knew that the pancreatic cancer diagnosis was probably terminal. I was fluent with the medical lingo: like Abraxane and Gemcitibane and Cancer Markers. A year before dad died, the disease killed my wife’s stepfather.

Like my dad, Ian Carroll was a successful journalist. A legend among his peers, where he led the ABC innovation department and was behind some of the broadcaster’s smartest ideas, like iView.

Ian’s cancer was noticed earlier than dad’s, during unrelated surgery.

The early diagnosis meant he lived for 12 months, but it also meant that he had to endure painful surgery and the exhausting rounds of chemotherapy that left him able to do little else but rest.

I learned that it is very rare for a pancreatic cancer patient to live 12 months, and treatment for the disease is blunt: chopping off the damaged bits of your pancreas, taking drugs like Abraxane, and chemotherapy, mostly.

It’s a disease that desperately needs more research.

There aren’t many treatment options, partly because patients don’t live long enough to take part in clinical trials – just 8 per cent of people diagnosed with the disease survive for five years (compared with 90 per cent for breast cancer, and 92 per cent for prostate cancer).

Most die much quicker than that – the three months that dad lived is much more typical.

Incredibly, despite all the advances in other areas of medicine, the survival rates for pancreatic cancer have not improved in 30 years.

So, to help the next generation of Peter Harveys and Ian Carrolls, more research is needed – and that, of course, means more money.

It’s why I donate each month to the GI Institute, and why I’m doing the fundraising Gutsy Challenge in August. Five days of trekking the Larapinta track, starting in Alice Springs.

Mind you, from where I’m sitting in Jakarta, five days of clean outback air sounds pretty good, too. The chance of falling into a drain is slim, I’d bet.

To support Adam & GI cancer research please consider donating via

Adam Harvey - Trek