Dying mum learns daughter has place at vet school in last call

Helen Harris learned her daughter had been accepted into veterinary school during FaceTime call.

Dying mum learns daughter has place at vet school in last  call Sarah Ward via SWNS
Nick and Helen Harris with daughters Isabel and Daisy in 2018

A tumour-stricken mum learned her daughter had achieved a lifelong dream of getting into veterinary school in her last conversation before she died.

Helen Harris, who was 47, was diagnosed with the incurable brain tumour in 2016 after initially suffering numbness and speech irregularities.

The mum-of-two, who had worked as a journalist and press officer, had 85% of the tumour removed shortly after diagnosis in August 2016, but a biopsy showed it was aggressive tumour glioblastoma.

Helen was given three months to live in 2018 after her last treatment failed – but defied medics to live for another 30 months.

In October, she and husband Nick, 50, celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary through a window at St Margaret of Scotland Hospice in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire.

Helen Harris 21st wedding anniversary Oct 2020.
Helen Harris 21st wedding anniversary Oct 2020.

Helen doted on daughters Daisy, 19, and Isabel, 17 – and on her final FaceTime call with them, she learnt her youngest child had got a place at veterinary school.

She died a week later, on December 20, after testing positive for coronavirus.

Husband Nick, who works as a sports journalist, described Helen as “gorgeous” and described how he sat on a chair in a muddy flowerbed outside the hospice during socially-distanced visits.

Nick said: “The last conversation Isabel had with Helen, she told her she had got into veterinary school.

“Isabel said to her ‘I’ve got some news’, and Helen said ‘brilliant’, and that was the last time Isabel spoke to her mum.

“She was gorgeous, her condition made her physically changed due to steroids and she was paralysed down one side.

“She was given three months to live in 2018 and she lived for 30 months, nobody knows why.

“Maybe it was willpower or her immune system was able to fight the infection when the treatment stopped.

“Before the diagnosis she was really healthy and slim and a non-smoker.

“The hospice got locked down in March so I didn’t get to hold her hand or hug her, I just sat outside.

“Every day from August I would take a waterproof coat, and an umbrella and a towel as the plastic chair would be soaking wet.

“I had my routine and the weather was terrible, sometimes I would be sitting in a muddy flower bed.”

Isabel, Helen, and Daisy Harris. 2009.
Isabel, Helen, and Daisy Harris. 2009.

The couple met doing their journalism training in Glasgow, and were friends before they started going out.

They wrote a book together in 2012, A Man in a Hurry: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Edward Payson Weston, the World’s Greatest Walker.

Before her diagnosis, Helen worked as a press officer for cancer charity Maggie’s which has centres which offer support and advice for patients.

When they received the devastating diagnosis, Helen wanted to be as honest as possible with her teenage daughters.

The family, from Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute, were determined to make the most of the limited time they had and tried to see every day as an opportunity.

They moved a hospital bed into the front room of their home so Helen could be with her girls as they played the piano.

Nick was stunned to learn Helen considered 2017 to be the best year of her life, on messages she left on a laptop, including advice for her daughters.

Nick added: “Before I was about a 65% husband, but you are thrown into thinking about what really matters in life, the people you love and trying to make the most of every day.

“We had some amazingly good times in the past four years.

“Helen said 2017 was the best year of her life, taking lots of good out of it has helped.

“If Helen had lasted the average lifespan 2016 would have been her last Christmas.

“Every Christmas we thought would be Helen’s last.

“We started thinking ‘what could we achieve this week’ and while Helen is alive.

“At Christmas 2018 Helen lost her mobility, but we were always trying to be optimistic.

“I was looking after her 24/7 at home but always trying to think ‘how can we get the most out of today?’.”

On Christmas Day they decided to set up a fundraiser in memory of Helen, and Isabel made a touching video compiled of family photographs and home movies as a tribute.

So far it has raised more than £25,000 from generous donors.

On seven occasions including Nick’s 50th birthday, on April 16, it was feared Helen was close to death but she continued to defy medics’ expectations.

Nick said the bleakness of the pandemic made their loss easier to manage.

He said: “Everyone is suffering in different ways they never expected, people are separated.

“People are feeling bleak and alone and frightened.

“We have just been trying to make the best of everything, concentrating on living and not on dying.”

To donate, visit https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/nick-harris-2020