Jennifer Harnage has been fighting ovarian cancer for nearly three years. The lack of funding for research as well as frequent late diagnosis has led to the cancer being dubbed “the silent killer.” Her family hopes to encourage elected officials to make cancer research a priority.
Terry Harnage and his daughter, Melissa Harnage Richardson, are headed to Washington D.C. to demand the government vow to wage a war on cancer.
It’s a passion Terry Harnage admits is relatively new, though his research and dedication more than makes up for his lack of prior knowledge. In October of 2017 his wife, Jennifer Harnage, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Their entire family has lived in an altered reality ever since.
“I was actually misdiagnosed for several months,” Jennifer Harnage said. “Unfortunately ovarian cancer is called ‘the silent killer’ because the symptoms are so easily overlooked with patients and are often misdiagnosed as something else in the medical community. And as you begin to look into ovarian cancer, you realize that there are no early screenings. The Pap smear detects cervical cancer but it doesn’t detect this. And with ovarian cancer, timing is everything.”
Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynecologic cancer in the U.S. and “causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When you look at all cancers combined, it accounts for a mere three percent of cancers in women. However, it is also the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related death in women.
If you are fortunate enough to find the cancer in the early stages, there is treatment that can help. However, the symptoms most experience are vague at best and that often leads to it not being caught until it is in advanced stages.
Each year, more than 300,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. With current medical treatments, though, less than half of those women will live longer than nine years.
Jennifer Harnage said her gynecologist kept brushing off her symptoms and was convinced her misdiagnosis was correct. It wasn’t until she and her husband could literally feel the mass growing inside her that they were able to demand a scan. The results came back quickly but it had advanced by then.
“There are so many families affected by this and the statistics are simply unacceptable,” Terry Harnage said. “My daughter and I are going to take a trip to Washington D.C. in our motorhome and go to the Capitol steps and start making a lot of noise. A ridiculously small amount of federal money is being spent to cover a lot of cancers. Our biggest concern right now is the ovarian cancer that my wife is fighting very bravely and very hard to try and stay healthy through this. But there just is not nearly enough federal money being spent on research and for treatments.”
In his mind there is only one answer: the federal government needs to declare a war on cancer.
He said that our elected officials move massive amounts of money around for wars in the Middle East, for passion projects of individual representatives or for deals that the general public never benefit from. There isn’t enough private money available to boost research enough to ever get a handle on the issue, so he believes the government will have to step up to the plate.
He’s more than aware we are talking billions, if not trillions of dollars, but he quickly listed a variety of wars and projects that have required double, if not triple that amount that were approved in a heartbeat.
“It’s time the American people demand the government fight a war that benefits us for a change,” he said. “I hope to burn some ears up in Washington D.C., there’s some ears that need to be set on fire because we need to get this done. Personally we want to get started very quickly. My wife is being treated now. She’s had two recurrences so we are currently trying to get into another remission.”
They plan to “make a lot of noise” Sunday and Monday and hope to catch the attention of not only the surrounding public, but also the members of Congress that will be arriving to work Monday morning.
It’s a passion they said they believe millions of citizens echo and it’s up to elected officials to stop and say, “You’re right, this needs to become a priority.”
“I don’t think Congress can be convinced, I think they are going to have to be shamed by the American people to reacting appropriately,” Terry Harnage said. “They are ready to sign off on wars in the Middle East to the tune of trillions of dollars and it’s time for them to sign off on an investment for the American people. We can demand that federal money. If we are gong to go into debt another trillion dollars, why don’t we get something out of it for a change. Why don’t we do something that will save millions of lives.”
It’s definitely a priority in the Harnage household. The husband and wife exercise each day together in hopes that by Jennifer Harnage being stronger and healthy, she will be able to continue the fight against the cancer and withstand the chemotherapy. She’s fighting hard, so he and his daughter are ready to fight hard with her.
His daughter flew in from San Antonio to make the trip. She is missing her first wedding anniversary, but he said they all know they are racing against a clock. Due to initial treatment and recurrences, Jennifer Harnage has had 20 chemo treatments since October 2017. It’s a battle they’re still in the middle of, yet their hope has never wavered.
“It’s the third year anniversary of Jennifer’s diagnosis this October, so statistically we’ve got to get going,” Terry Harnage said. “This has to get going at a faster rate, not just for us but for all of those families out there that are in the same position. God willing, we aren’t running out of time but we have to look at it that way.”
For Jennifer Harnage, the message is simple: don’t let anybody discount your concerns. She said physicians are very good at ruling out generic diseases, but often fail to catch the more rare or unnoticed culprits.
Until there’s further research, the hopes of any changes are slim. She said all they want is for Congress members to give them their attention and realize they’re ignoring a deadly war right here in their own back yard.
The motorhome is on the road and should be nearing Washington D.C. soon. The fight is just beginning.