NI mum who lost her cancer fight just days af­ter get­ting mar­ried

and kept the news from her chil­dren so they’d en­joy one last hol­i­day to­gether and then planned her dream wed­ding

Belfast Telegraph - - FRONT PAGE -

She never sat down and felt sorry for her­self, she was such a strong wo­man

In a deeply mov­ing en­counter, Lisa Smyth talks to the hus­band and sis­ters of Me­lanie Daniel, from Co Ar­magh, who died last month at the age of 36 from breast cancer

AFAMILY left dev­as­tated af­ter a mum-of-two lost her fight with breast cancer just days af­ter mar­ry­ing the love of her life have opened their hearts about her courage in deal­ing with the news she was dy­ing by mak­ing the most of ev­ery day.

Af­ter doc­tors told Me­lanie Daniel her con­di­tion was ter­mi­nal, she booked one last hol­i­day abroad with her loved ones — and then set about or­gan­is­ing an idyl­lic wed­ding to part­ner Paul.

In­deed, her friends and fam­ily were still shar­ing pic­tures from the emo­tion­ally-charged cer­e­mony on so­cial me­dia when they heard the 36-year-old from Tan­dragee, Co Ar­magh, had lost her brave bat­tle with the dis­ease.

Me­lanie — the sec­ond el­dest of four sis­ters — ful­filled her dream of mar­ry­ing her part­ner, 45-year-old Paul, in front of her clos­est fam­ily and friends on Septem­ber 5.

How­ever, in a cruel blow, her con­di­tion sud­denly de­te­ri­o­rated and she was rushed to Craigavon Area Hospi­tal on Septem­ber 7 and died at 7.30am the fol­low­ing day — al­most a year to the day of her ini­tial di­ag­no­sis.

Now, Me­lanie’s heart­bro­ken hus­band and fam­ily are speak­ing out about their loss in the hope it will raise aware­ness of the ag­gres­sive type of breast cancer that claimed her life at such a young age.

Paul says: “She used to tell me she felt cheated be­cause she checked her­self for lumps but felt noth­ing be­fore she was di­ag­nosed. If some­thing was go­ing to slap her in the face through all of this, it did, but there wasn’t a day through it all where she didn’t get up and get on with things.

“She never sat down and felt sorry for her­self, she was such a strong wo­man, she was amaz­ing.”

And, in a touch­ing in­sight into Me­lanie’s courage and per­son­al­ity, her sis­ter, Emily Do­herty (35), says: “She ac­tu­ally helped us deal with her ill­ness.

“We still don’t be­lieve it has hap­pened and that we have lost her.

“We were all still on a high from the wed­ding, we were up­load­ing pho­tos to so­cial me­dia when we got a phone call telling us to the get to the hospi­tal, that it was a mat­ter of hours.

“Me­lanie was so for­ward-think­ing, she wasn’t the type to dwell on things. She said to me af­ter the wed­ding that if any­thing hap­pened to her she was go­ing out on a high.

“She was the hap­pi­est she’d ever been in her life, that’s what she told me, and it was be­cause of Paul and what they had to­gether.

“She was plan­ning on push­ing on to Christ­mas, she wanted to get to Christ­mas for the chil­dren, and she wanted to plan her funeral.

“It’s been very hard to process, although it’s go­ing to get harder as time goes on and we aren’t able to speak to her.”

Me­lanie, who was mum to Jor­dan (19) and Thomas (9) and step­mum to Josh (15) and Zoe (11), was di­ag­nosed with cancer on Septem­ber 5 last year.

An­other sis­ter, Natalie Boyd (38), ex­plains: “We’re all very aware of the symp­toms of breast cancer be­cause we lost an aunt to it.

“We all check our­selves, as did Me­lanie, but there was never any sign of breast cancer.

“She was train­ing re­ally hard at the time and was the fittest she’d been in her life. She had been to the gym with Paul and thought she had done some­thing to a mus­cle, so she went along to the doc­tor.

“She didn’t wait, she went straight away and they re­ferred her on. As she had pri­vate in­sur­ance, she was seen that evening and she phoned us all while she was sit­ting wait­ing for her ap­point­ment, but she re­ally didn’t think it was cancer at that stage.

“She told us not to be wor­ry­ing, that it was no big deal.”

How­ever, af­ter a mam­mo­gram, biopsy and MRI scan, doc­tors told Me­lanie she had breast cancer.

“It turns out the tu­mour was grow­ing flat un­der the mus­cle, which is why she never felt it,” ex­plains Emily.

“It was just so un­fair be­cause we were all so proac­tive about check­ing our breasts.” Me­lanie’s youngest sis­ter, Ruth Richard­son (31) says: “We met as a fam­ily the next day and it was very emo­tional.

“With Me­lanie, it was busi­ness as usual and she was very much about get­ting her treat­ment plan and beat­ing the cancer.

“She was wor­ried, but she didn’t think it was any­thing she couldn’t han­dle.”

Me­lanie trav­elled to Lon­don for fur­ther tests and it emerged she had triple neg­a­tive breast cancer — an ex­tremely ag­gres­sive form of the dis­ease. In typ­i­cal fash­ion, Me­lanie — an op­er­a­tions man­ager with Bar­clays — was de­ter­mined to pro­tect her fam­ily from the re­al­ity of her ill­ness and urged them not to read any­thing about it.

“She wanted us to deal with the facts as she was pre­sent­ing them and not get car­ried away with any­thing we had found on the in­ter­net,” con­tin­ued Emily.

“She had looked it up her­self and knew the sur­vival rates weren’t good but she was go­ing to give it her best go.

“She was never one of those peo­ple who would just sit down and ac­cept what they were be­ing told, she did her re­search about the cancer and the treat­ments and what was avail­able and very much met her doc­tors on an even play­ing field.

“She be­came an ex­pert and if there was some­thing to know about triple neg­a­tive breast cancer, she knew it.”

Me­lanie quickly be­gan chemo­ther­apy and un­der­went a dou­ble mas­tec­tomy on Fe­bru­ary 3 this year. This was fol­lowed by more chemo­ther­apy and a course of ra­dio­ther­apy.

Paul says: “You nearly couldn’t get her to slow down, she was do­ing all the

school runs and din­ners for the kids. Ev­ery­thing had to be busi­ness as nor­mal.”

Natalie con­tin­ues: “It was just the way that Me­lanie was, when­ever she had a prob­lem, she would just get stuck in.”

It was at the end of her ra­dio­ther­apy that doc­tors told Me­lanie there was no ev­i­dence of dis­ease and that she had had a full patho­log­i­cal re­sponse to the treat­ment.

“We felt like she had kicked its back­side — they told her to go and en­joy life, although she did say she knew it was go­ing to come back and ev­ery day she woke up won­der­ing was to­day go­ing to be the day,” says Emily.

Trag­i­cally the cancer re­turned sooner than any­one ex­pected.

A scan done in July — six months af­ter Me­lanie fin­ished treat­ment — re­vealed the dis­ease had come back and was now in her spine, pelvis, shoul­der blade and pos­si­bly her liver.

“Triple neg­a­tive breast cancer tends to re­cur sooner than other types of breast cancer,” ex­plains con­sul­tant breast sur­geon Stu­art McIn­tosh.

“It ac­counts for about 15% to 20% of over­all breast cancer cases, but it is more ag­gres­sive and the prog­no­sis tends to be poorer than in other breast can­cers.

“The dif­fi­culty we have with triple neg­a­tive breast cancer is that, un­like with many of the other types of breast cancer, we don’t re­ally have tar­geted treat­ments.

“For ex­am­ple, with HER2 pos­i­tive breast cancer, we would treat it with Her­ceptin, but with triple neg­a­tive breast cancer we don’t re­ally have that op­tion.

“Ob­vi­ously re­searchers are work­ing hard to ad­dress this and there are a promis­ing num­ber of op­tions be­ing looked at but for now there are lim­its to the treat­ments avail­able.”

In Me­lanie’s case, doc­tors told her the only treat­ment they could now of­fer was pal­lia­tive and if she re­sponded well to chemo­ther­apy she could ex­pect to sur­vive for between 18 months and two years.

“She kept say­ing she didn’t feel like she was dy­ing,” con­tin­ued Natalie. “She was back at the gym and get­ting back to nor­mal and it was hard to be­lieve she was so ill be­cause she looked so well.”

Me­lanie’s im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion to her di­ag­no­sis was to book a fam­ily hol­i­day to Tener­ife that very same week.

“In the end up we all went along,” says Emily.

“Me­lanie wanted one last nor­mal week with the kids be­fore she told them the news and they had a bril­liant time.

“I think it was eas­ier be­cause the kids were there and we were so de­ter­mined to give them the best hol­i­day ever, although we had our mo­ments when we were left alone.

“As the week went on and it got closer to go­ing home, it be­came harder and harder be­cause we knew life was never go­ing to be the same again.”

Shortly af­ter re­turn­ing home, Me­lanie was rushed to hospi­tal af­ter she lost her vi­sion and move­ment.

Emily con­tin­ues: “We were all hop­ing it was a stroke or a mi­graine but it turned out the cancer was in her brain.

“Her sight and ev­ery­thing came back that night and she was up and bounc­ing around.

“But she lost her driv­ing li­cence af­ter that and needed us to drive her ev­ery­where — she ran us into the ground as there was so much she wanted to do and then Paul pro­posed.

“She had al­ways wanted to get mar­ried at Lusty Beg so we rang and asked for avail­able dates in Septem­ber.

“Me­lanie wanted to go for the 25th as it would give guests more time to get or­gan­ised but when she spoke to her con­sul­tant and ran the dates past him he told her to go for the fifth.”

Me­lanie and her sis­ters or­gan­ised the event within a mat­ter of weeks.

“It was the most fan­tas­tic, amaz­ing day — she was so happy from start to fin­ish, it was so re­laxed and there were a lot of laughs,” con­tin­ues Natalie.

“It was also the first time a lot of peo­ple had seen her since she had been told it was ter­mi­nal so there were also tears, but it was more be­cause she was get­ting ev­ery­thing she wanted.

“If Me­lanie knew what was com­ing, she never let on. She was up danc­ing and par­ty­ing late that night.

“It’s a mir­a­cle she had such a good day and it was so spe­cial to be a part of it.”

Me­lanie with her beloved dogs, Toby and Jack

Me­lanie on her hen night dur­ing her can­cer treat­ment Fam­ily bond: from left, Ruth Richard­son (sis­ter), Natalie Boyd (sis­ter), Carmel Young (mum), Me­lanie, Len Young (dad) and Emily Do­herty (sis­ter) Me­lanie and Paul at a wed­ding in Au­gust last year,...

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