Partner of Derry woman Fiona Brady who passed away from Melanoma shares her story to help others

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The partner and family of a much-loved Derry woman, who passed away in January, have urged others ‘not to take no for an answer’ when it comes to their health.

'Beautiful’ Fiona Brady, who was originally from Carnhill, was just 36 years old when she passed away in January following a diagnosis of Stage 4 Advanced Melanoma.

Fiona, who her partner Gary Devenney described as ‘one of those people who lived for life’ had previously, in 2018, been diagnosed with skin cancer.

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She underwent surgery to remove a mole on her stomach, following which, she was visually checked every six months for three years, before receiving the ‘all clear’ in 2021.

Fiona Brady.Fiona Brady.
Fiona Brady.

Fiona’s family have raised concerns over aspects of Fiona’s follow-up care after her diagnosis and what they described as communication issues throughout her treatment.

Gary also highlighted how, just days before she passed away and with a temperature of 39 and a heart rate of 160, Fiona had to return home after being taken to Altnagelvin Hospital A&E by ambulance, due to capacity and waiting times.

She was also wrongly diagnosed with Sciatica after experiencing intense pain in her back. Fiona was later diagnosed with advanced melanoma that had spread to her spine, shoulder and hip.

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They wish to highlight Fiona’s story to both raise awareness of Melanoma this Melanoma Awareness Month and to encourage others to seek a second opinion if they are concerned about their health.

Fiona, (left) pictured with her sister Roisin in November last year.Fiona, (left) pictured with her sister Roisin in November last year.
Fiona, (left) pictured with her sister Roisin in November last year.

Gary outlined how Fiona first became worried about the mole in 2014 and at an appointment at the hospital skin clinic, was told there were no major concerns, but to to ‘keep an eye on it’ for changing shape or colour.

He added how, in 2018, after noticing a change in the mole, tests confirmed Fiona had skin cancer, for which she received surgery and removal of lymph nodes under her left arm. He said she did not receive preventative chemotherapy or scans, but was visually checked.

Gary said the family are questioning why Fiona was never given a scan before being given the ‘all clear’ and if this is procedure for all people with a skin cancer diagnosis.

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"We wonder if a scan had have been done in 2021, what would they have found?” said Gary.

Gary added how, following her diagnosis, Fiona was ‘extremely careful’ and ‘did everything right,’ – covering up in the sun, staying in the shade and wearing Factor 50 suncream.

In 2023, Fiona began to feel very tired all the time, which she attributed to work. She began to get severe pain in the bottom of her back and was diagnosed with Sciatica.

"Everything was on the left -hand side and that’s where the mole had been and where she’d had the lymph nodes removed. Even though she had cancer before, she wasn’t sent for a scan or anything.”

She was referred on and told to get more exercise.

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It was during a holiday in Italy in 2023 that Fiona noticed skin lesions and bruises. She became ‘bedbound with the pain,’ which was ‘excruciating’.

When they arrived back home, Gary obtained an appointment for Fiona with ‘Your Physio’ in Greysteel, who he said, were ‘outstanding’.

The physiotherapist sent Fiona ‘straight to A&E,’ where she waited for 11 hours before being told no scan was available. She returned two days later, where a scan showed irregularities on the bottom of her spine. Gary said Fiona found this out after being mistakenly called by a health professional, who believed they were speaking to her doctor.

10 days later, Fiona was admitted to hospital due to breathing difficulties and had seven litres of fluid drained from her lungs. As she was so ill, doctors changed her treatment plan from Immunotherapy to targeted therapy.

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Gary told how there were also other communication issues, including Fiona being told that the cancer was in her stomach. Fiona had not been told this.

He added how Fiona was told her cancer was terminal on a Saturday, but could not see her consultant to the following Monday, ‘so had to sit with that for two days’.

Gary was also called via phone to inform him a Do Not Resuscitate Order had been put in place, which he said was also not discussed with Fiona or her family.

Gary added how, between September and November, Fiona ‘lived life to the fullest,’ as the targeted therapy gave her some relief from pain and this also gave them some hope.

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In November, her severe pain began to return and this increased in intensity throughout December.

"She never complained,” said Gary.

"She just got on with it. Even when it got really bad towards the end, she just saw it as a part of what she had to do. She was such a soldier and so string and resilient about it all.”

Fiona was admitted to hospital on December 28 and remained there until January 16. She was being treated for an infection when she was discharged and given antibiotics. Gary said he was given an incorrect number of antibiotics for the course.

On January 25, 2024, Fiona became very ill, with a temperature of 39 degrees and a heart rate of 160. She was taken to Altnagelvin A& E by ambulance. On arrival, the ambulance staff, who Gary said he ‘cannot fault’ told him A& E was at at capacity and there were four other patients with cancer ahead of Fiona, He was told they had two options, the ambulance crew would take the ambulance ‘off grid’ and ‘sit with Fiona in it until she got a place, but it was likely to be the early hours of the morning’.

"Or, take Fiona home and ring 999 in the morning.”

It was decided to take Fiona home.

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Gary told how she was extremely ill that night, hallucinating ‘wildly’ and in and out and consciousness.

Fiona was admitted to hospital the next day and, while Gary was sitting at her bedside, he saw on her notes she had been diagnosed with a serious condition called Cauda Equina. Fiona had never been informed and neither had Gary or her family, he said.

Fiona passed away peacefully in hospital on January 29. Gary said they met many ‘lovely’ doctors and nurses and praised the staff of the Foyle Hospice, who were ‘incredible,’ particularly nurse Pamela.

Gary and Fiona’s friends and family are deep within their grief, but want to share her experiences to help others.

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"There were so many inconsistencies, miscommunications and times she could have been cared for better. We’re not saying it’s the doctors and nurses fault– the system is completely broken.”

Gary urged everyone to be aware of changes in their skin and highlighted how Melanoma ‘is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer and can spread very quickly.’

"Don’t take for granted that it’s a cancer you’re not going to get or that it’s easily cured.”

He said that anyone who is still concerned about a health issue ‘should not take no for an answer’.

"Get a second opinion if you’re worried.”

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Gary added how ‘so many people’ have reached out to Fiona and their family since they highlighted her experience on social media this week.

He said Fiona would have been happy that she is helping others.

"She had such a joy and zest for life. She loved everything about it.”

Following questions from the Journal to the Western Trust, a spokesperson said: “These concerns have been shared with the relevant Clinical teams, however, due to patient/client confidentiality we do not provide comment on individual patients.

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“If a patient/client or their relative has any concern in relation to their treatment or the service they have received, we would encourage them to raise these issues through the Trust's comments and complaints system - the Patients' Advocate Office. The Patients' Advocate Office can be contacted on (028) 7161 1226. All complaints received are investigated promptly and dealt with in line with Trust policies.”

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