A tribute to a brave man, by Rachel Harries-Darke
Andrew Harries was feisty, funny and full of character. Everyone had a tale to tell about time they had spent with him at some point and it almost invariably involved getting into a scrape, a practical joke or a weekend of fun with friends. He was a brilliant Dad, loyal friend and a great husband. I miss his presence, his wicked sense of humour, his honesty and his almost-horizontal attitude to life. His theory was that you shouldn't worry about things you have no control over - 'what will be will be'. He didn't spend time procrastinating over things like me, and he always had down-to-earth, straight-talking advice to give anyone who needed it. Even during his last few weeks he was dishing out advice to people who asked for it. He also refused to feel sorry for himself, or for us, which could sometimes be quite irritating! I would often want to wallow in a 'woe is me' kind of way at what had happened to us, but he refused to. At one point he said he was glad that it had happened to us because we could cope with it, and we did. I am indebted to him for teaching me a lot about human nature, endurance, suffering... I often think about what must have been going on his head, knowing that he was going to die. He gave me so much to be grateful for, and to be proud of. I thank him almost every day and I am sure that I am a better person for having lived through the experience with him.
Andy enjoyed lots of things and was really passionate about a few. Football, cricket and films (he had a collection of 350 DVDs). And then there was Tobago - Andy loved Tobago. We chose it as our wedding-honeymoon destination in 2000. Andrew died at the end of July 2004 and we were lucky enough to return to Tobago for the holiday of lifetime last spring. No-one thought that we would ever make it back – consultants and family included – Andy had been ill for two years previously, and seriously ill for around four months before we made our last trip. He travelled to the Caribbean against all the odds.
To cut a long story short, Andrew had been crippled by rheumatoid arthritis for a couple of years since we got married in Tobago. In August 2002 he started to experience severe shoulder pain which the doctors couldn’t manage with conventional rheumatoid treatments. A scan showed the presence of a shadow in his abdomen which was initially thought to be a blood clot. Subsequent scans showed rapid growth of this shadow and a week or so later the consultants confirmed that Andy had a very rare tumour – a fibro sarcoma. The tumours themselves are not rare, but the location was. What was initially detected as a plum-sized scan shadow very rapidly grew to the size of a grapefruit and when it was removed in a marathon operation which he was lucky to survive, it was the size of a small melon. Surgeons had also removed large patches of malignancy connected to his heart and diaphragm and a whole section of one lung. At this stage I was 37 weeks pregnant with our son – Josh.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed, and despite the best efforts of a fantastic medical team and an amazing set of friends and family, the cancer was too aggressive to be fought. A year before he died, Andrew was told that nothing more could be done. It was predicted that the tumour would grow and grow until it strangled his internal organs.
Just after the initial operation, and just before Andrew started chemotherapy the first time, he stored sperm samples for future children which we were desperate to have. In January 2003 when it looked like treatment was going well, we instigated the start of fertility treatment for another baby, using that sperm. Two months later we were informed, by letter, that the hospital that was storing the sperm had accidentally destroyed the samples of 32 cancer patients, including Andy. We lost the chance to have another child together and Andy was nothing short of devastated. He was angry, too, for the first time. It was a horrendous situation; the hospital admitted negligence but the way in which it was all handled was appalling and we never really felt that a decent explanation or apology was given.
Back to Andy... I asked him to put together a wish-list of things to achieve and do when it became obvious that his time was limited. Tobago was top of that list, shortly followed by a desire to see the England cricket team play the West Indies in the Caribbean itself. Shortly after tracking down details of the England tour of the West Indies in 2004, Andy posted on the myTobago website asking about the feasibility of the trip over to Trinidad and how to arrange tickets. We struck lucky! Steve Wooler spent the next year tirelessly organising our second honeymoon. I will never be able to thank him, and everyone involved in our trip, enough. Basically, Andy fulfilled a dream that he never thought possible.
Towards the end Andrew sported a tumour which made him look like a lopsided hunchback, making it very uncomfortable to sit back in seats and shifting his body round to an extraordinary angle. Despite constant, horrendous pain, Andrew fought his illness and was determined that it wouldn’t beat him. Determination gave way to acceptance, but he never gave up hope of returning to Tobago or seeing his little boy take his first steps. He was there for Josh learning to walk and in late April 2004, with a fit-to-travel letter from our GP and a list of the medication which Andrew had to take we set off for the Caribbean once more. He had also wanted to meet Alec Stewart and Bryan Robson – both of whom did call in his last week with us. In fact, Alec Stewart made Andy smile for pretty much the last time – he died the next day.
Andrew's story started with a post in our Tobago discussion forum, asking about day trips to Trinidad and tickets for the one-day cricket Internationals. Rachel's follow-up, two weeks later, explained the background and galvanised myTobago readers and business owners into action. The story of Andy and Rachel's final trip together is told in a separate forum thread. The three threads had over 11,000 reader views, making it the second most-read story in the forum's history, exceeded only by news and updates of Hurricane Ivan in September 2004.
Further pictures from Andrew and Rachel's 2004 trip are available here.
We know that Andrew would want to thank those who made his final trip to Tobago possible:
- Alibaba/Woody - for arranging a sunset dinner in Castara *
- Cantor Fitzerald / Cantor Sport - for providing tickets and VIP hospitality at the cricket
- Coco Reef Resort - for accommodation upgrades and VIP treatment throughout the holiday CocoMotion - for providing a tour along Tobago's coast
- Copthorne Hotel - for pre-flight accommodation and dinner at Gatwick
- Digital Tobago - for recording the holiday for posterity
- Golden Caribbean - for providing transport aboard XL Airways to and from Tobago
- Hummingbird Helicopters - for providing a flight-seeing tour and transfer from Trinidad
- Rev. Brent Hart - for a private blessing, having married Rachel & Andy five years ago
- Seahorse Inn - for a private dinner at the restaurant where Andy and Rachel were married *
- Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Tourism Department - for the reception and dinner
- Yes Tourism - for coordinating all events and providing ground logistics, tours and transport
- and the lovely anonymous German couple who donated funds for the air transfers to and from Trinidad
* Andy's health prevented some events from taking place. However, it is the thought that counts.