Holding Onto Hope | Local Hero Jessica Harbridge

Three months ago Jessica Harbridge was a healthy, happy 20 year old; living in Ballarat and falling head over heels for her new boyfriend Troy. She was in her 3rd year of uni studying a bachelor of commerce and management, when suddenly life took an unexpected turn.

It started out with what felt like a bad cold – low energy levels and severe coughing. But despite staying home to rest, the symptoms only got worse. After a week Jessica’s mum Allison took her to the doctor for answers.

“I went to five different doctors,” says Jessica. “The first one said I had croup and sent me home with a course of antibiotics. The second doctor diagnosed me with whooping cough. The third with sever asthma and the fourth with a general cold.”

During this whole time Jessica’s health was declining. She could no longer lie flat on her back or stomach without suffocating herself.

Finally Jessica’s mum Allison decided enough was enough. She went against the doctors orders and took her into Ballarat Base Hospital to demand an x-ray.

What the x-ray found shocked not only Jessica and Allison but every doctor and nurse in the entire building. There was a 17cm cancer completely covering Jessica’s windpipe. She was rushed Melbourne Private where they performed a biopsy and diagnosed her with Leukemia.

“We had no time to think about anything.” Says Alison. “Not even enough time to pick up clothes. When we arrived at Melbourne Private Jessica could hardly breathe. They put her straight into a ward and pumped her full of steroids.”

That first night in hospital, 6 nurses barely left her side. The very next day chemotherapy began.

Over 3000 Australians are diagnosed with Leukaemia every year. The chances of surviving are just 57%. But Jess is fighting hard and holding onto hope.

“We have our down days.” Says Allison. “But sometimes we get lucky and are allowed to go home for the weekend. Everything keeps changing so all we can do is take it day by day.

Understandably Jessica’s energy levels are low. Chemotherapy and in particular the Asparaginase drugs (or asparagus drugs as Jessica likes to call them) affect the white blood cells and cause chronic fatigue.

This photo shoot is the first physically exertive activity that Jessica has done since her diagnosis. In the lead up to the day there were many question marks over whether or not she could go ahead with it. But Jessica was determined.

“You can tell the people who are coping and those who are giving up,” says Jessica. “I’m not giving up and I want these photos to show that to my friends and family. I want them to see that this sickness hasn’t broken me.”

Jessica just celebrated her 21st birthday. We gave her this shoot and a 10-page portfolio album as a birthday present. If anyone deserves to feel special on her birthday, it is certainly Jessica Harbridge.

If you would like to join the fight against Leukemia, click here to find out how.


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