Leaving a legacy of love for father of three with bowel cancer at 24

Harley Melhopt and his young family: Riley, 8, Naiah, 3, fiancee Sam, and Laken, 1.
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Harley Melhopt and his young family: Riley, 8, Naiah, 3, fiancee Sam, and Laken, 1.

Harley Melhopt and Sam Thompson have three beautiful children – Riley, eight, Naiah​, three, and little baby Laken, who turned one this week.

The Christchurch couple plan to marry at Thompson's family home in a few months.

Time may be running out for Melhopt, who at just 29 has aggressive bowel cancer.

"We've always wanted to get married," Thompson said.

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"Only a few months left to do it. I couldn't have done it without Sam," Melhopt said.

Today, Melhopt is unable to work, sleep or eat. He is in constant pain.

From age 15, he had been going to the doctor with stomach pains.

"They just told me it was indigestion."

In 2011, he headed to the emergency department with excruciating stomach pain. He was rushed into theatre with suspected appendicitis.

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Instead, surgeons discovered a large tumour.

Melhopt was shocked to learn it was bowel cancer.

"It was already quite big when they found it and I was 24 then."

He learned the doctors never considered he may have bowel cancer because he was so young.

"It ran in my family too, the bowel cancer. They said to get tested when I was 25, not 21."

Ahead lay 12 months of chemotherapy. Melhopt was about to return to work as a painting apprentice when his health deteriorated. The cancer had spread.

"The doctor gave me three to five years at the start and it's coming on four-and-a-half, so he's pretty on."

He admits it has not been easy for his partner.

"Gotta be strong for the kids," Thompson said.

Melhopt said his condition was deteriorating.

"I'm getting really bad, especially these last few weeks.

"It's just getting worse and worse. Everything's stuffed.

"Especially with the kids and stuff, I thought I'd be around for way longer."

He is on morphine, but has been advised to try Cetuximab, a treatment for colorectal cancer tumours and associated with advanced disease, which costs more than $10,000 a month.

The family live in a state house in Christchurch. They each receive a benefit because Melhopt cannot work and Thompson cares for the children. Money is scarce.

"It's hard doing it on the benefit . . .  it's just enough," he said.

A friend's mother started a Givealittle page to help fundraise for his treatment. So far, more than $10,000 has been given by more than 120 people.

Melhopt said he had hoped he would be around longer for his children.

"I just want them to be happy," he said.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world, with more than 3000 people diagnosed and 1200 deaths from the disease each year.

 - Stuff

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