Mum-of-5 dies from cancer after being told breast lumps were from breastfeeding

Mel Bray and family

The dismissal of a woman’s breast lumps as a harmless result of breastfeeding may have contributed to five children being left without their mum.

Too young

Melanie Bray was 27 when she first discovered some lumps in her breast, but doctors told her she was “too young” to have breast cancer.

Doctors advised Mel that because there was no family history of breast cancer, the lumps were most likely a result of breastfeeding and nothing to worry herself about.

Mel’s mum, Janet Willoughby, said her daughter first visited the specialist breast care centre at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in 2010.

“She wasn’t the kind of person to ignore things and went straight to her GP, and was referred to the Mermaid Centre,” Janet told The Sun.

Lumpy, bumpy

Janet said that after her first visit, and the dismissal of her concerns, she visited the cancer centre a second time (also in 2010) and was again told her “lumpy, bumpy” breasts were due to nursing.

Mel was doubtful about this diagnosis, her mum said. Sadly, Mel was right.

In 2013, she found a huge lump on the side of her breast and headed back to her GP, who referred her back to the Mermaid Centre.

“She was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer. And we knew from then it was terminal,” Janet said.

“The type of cancer she had was not a hereditary one, so having no family history of breast cancer had nothing to do with it.”

Despite aggressive treatment, Mel died in March 2017. She was 33.

Start making noise

Mel spent her last months with her family and friends, raising funds for cancer research. She also worked hard to promote the #startmakingnoise campaign, which encourages people who are unhappy with a medical diagnosis to push for further answers.

Mel’s mum Janet said she’s taken inspiration from her daughter’s amazing attitude but lives with the anger and sadness of her possibly unnecessary death.

“After her diagnosis I was angry initially, and if I’m honest that anger has never really gone away. I’ve had to learn to live with it. But we’ve all tried to adopt her attitude of making the best of things. If she had been diagnosed sooner then it could have been different.”

A spokesperson from Royal Cornwall Hospital – where Mel’s initial cancer concerns were turned away twice – stood by the care the young mum had received.

“Sadly early stage disease will not always be apparent, despite appropriate diagnostic tests, and in the case of more aggressive cancers they can develop rapidly over a very short period of time,” they said.

“We would like to express our sincere condolences following Melanie’s death and our thoughts are with her family at this difficult time.”

“They didn’t listen”

Janet’s carrying on the advocacy work Mel started, hoping to inspire others to speak up if they’re worried about the accuracy of a diagnosis.

“If you are not happy with your diagnosis then keep going back, and back, and back. Keep pushing the doctors for another answer,” Janet urged.

“Melanie knew, she knew something wasn’t right in herself, but they didn’t listen. We are doing it for her, and if we can save just one person from having to go through this as well then it’s worth it.”

Our deepest condolences to this beautiful family.


Top image source: BBC Radio Cornwall

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