Liza Harvey

Liza shares her grief

When Hal Harvey was first diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer, his wife, Liza, was Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister for Small Business in Western Australia. Her demanding job, however, did not stop the couple making the most of Hal’s remaining time. “We activated the bucket list,” she says.

Against the advice of medical oncologists, Hal and Liza along with their three children, Sarah, Elizabeth and Jack, went travelling around Western Australia, to some of the state’s most remote fishing spots. At Hal’s funeral, Liza told the gathering “Our favourite saying was ‘bite off more than you can chew and then chew like hell’.”

This attitude didn’t waver as Hal’s condition worsened. In 2012, Liza was made Minister for Police and won an election in 2013. Few people knew of Hal’s illness and managing Hal’s care and her own demanding job was often extremely difficult for Liza.

She would go to cabinet meetings in the morning and then sit with Hal through his chemotherapy sessions in the afternoon.

Hal Harvey was a recreational fishing icon whose involvement in the Western Australian angling community had been instrumental in the pioneering of sports fishing. Hal died in October 2014, aged 55, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Hal had fished all over the world and wrote a weekly fishing column for the Sunday Times. For 25 years he wrote the Tackle & Tactics column for Western Angler Magazine. Hal was well-known amongst anglers in WA, where the family owned a series of tackle shops.

Hal went to his doctor in 2011 after a rapid onset of jaundice. His doctor initially thought the problem was hepatitis, but blood tests and scans showed that there was a tumour on Hal’s pancreas. Hal was eligible for surgery to have it removed.

However, once he was on the operating table it became clear that the tumour had wrapped itself around the superior mesenteric artery and could not be fully removed. He was given six months to live.

“The psychological stuff that goes on and the anxiety that we both experienced before getting the results of each CT scan,” Liza said. “It was a very, very tough three and half years.”

In his final column for Western Angler Magazine Hal wrote:

‘People tell me to be strong. I’ll be that, and I’ll also never give up, however illogical that may sound. I do need a miracle to survive — medical or mystical, either will be gleefully received — and I can’t expect such a thing, but that’s no reason to give up.

However, I will take the prognosis to mean I no longer have to be bothered so much with sunscreen or restraining myself around dessert. Chicken and chips is back on the menu. There are positives.’

In February of this year, Liza was made Deputy Premier of the WA Liberal State Government. Like Hal, Liza has been able to see opportunities in her husband’s sickness and she hopes his death will serve as an encouragement to other men to take their health seriously. Hal had been sick for some time before Liza convinced him to go to a doctor. He had pain in his upper abdomen whenever he bent down to tie his shoes, which he attributed to a muscle strain, he also lost 6kgs while still eating pizza and chips and had become intolerant to coffee, alcohol and spicy food. All non-specific symptoms but with the benefit of hindsight were all indications that it might be useful to have a check-up with the GP.

“This is a message to all the men out there: go to the doctor and get your check-ups.”