Mum’s grief as daughter dies after ‘suffering nightmare headaches’

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A mother has paid tribute to her daughter who died just months after complaining of severe headaches and fatigue.

Tragically, Leigh Kelly died aged just 36 on January 16, after a long and gruelling battle with cancer. Speaking out about her loss, her mum, Janet Caldwell, has described her as a ‘fighter’ who was ‘never going to just give up’.

Leigh, who worked as a palliative carer, was first diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in October of 2019 after discovering a small lump in her breast. From her diagnosis, everything moved ‘very quickly’ reports the Manchester Evening News, with Leigh starting treatment within weeks of being told the news.

Her tumour had grown quickly, as is common with triple-negative breast cancer, to around 5.3cm. Leigh started chemotherapy to shrink the tumour, which was then operated on and later removed at Royal Oldham Hospital.

“Leigh had been referred to the breast clinic within days of going to the doctors,” Janet said. “It all moved very quickly, she began treatment and started having chemotherapy and also did two trials at the Christie. Then she had radiotherapy.

“Even from the beginning, she was so positive and determined to fight it. She was never going to just give up. She told the doctors she would have any treatment. She was that kind of girl and never felt sorry for herself.”

According to Cancer Research UK, trials are ongoing to compare different types of chemotherapy to see which are better at treating advanced disease, including researchers working on the Triple Negative Trial (TNT).

It was around July 2020 when Leigh was placed in remission. “All of us were so happy,” Janet added. “But obviously as her mum, I was still always scared it would come back. She was living again and just enjoying life. She never stopped and was always so busy, she had amazing friends.”

It was the beginning of 2022 when Leigh, from Ashton-under-Lyne, began to complain of severe head pains and fatigue. After being referred, scans then revealed she had three tumours in her brain, as well as further tumours in her breast bone, lung and oesophagus.

“It was extremely heartbreaking,” mum Janet said. “It had been terrible for her. The head pains had been making her life hell.”

One of the tumours on her brain was operable – with treatment carried out by doctors at Salford Royal Hospital in April last year. By this point, Leigh and her family had been told her diagnosis was terminal, and that she may only have months left to live.

The Christie Hospital then agreed to start her on more rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in a bid to try and prolong her life – but there were no guarantees. Through all of this, Leigh kept in positive spirits and even helped others with their diagnosis, supporting them through her posts on social media.

“It was extremely heartbreaking and scary for us all, but knowing Leigh and her fight, she just said her brain could handle more radiotherapy,” Janet added. “She was that kind of girl and was so encouraging to other people who had reached out to her. Everybody loved her.”

“We were so happy when doctors agreed to operate on her brain tumour. We knew she wouldn’t live but they said they’d never seen anybody so happy in those circumstances. She was vomiting continuously and was bedridden.”

Rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy continued, though unsuccessfully, until around October 2022. Leigh took a turn for the worse and became completely bedbound. She began to struggle using her legs and was unable to walk properly. By this point, her mum described how her cancer had spread once more, this time to her other lung, her spine, her bladder and her bowels, with multiple other tumours in her brain.

“She started to get very ill again,” Janet said. “We had been talking about physiotherapy for her legs because parts of her body were failing. Sadly they told us it was down her spine and had spread and her bowels and bladder and her other lung. She was in a state where her muscles were wasting away and she could’ve been paralysed. But every time we got bad news, she still came home and would always think of the positives. When they gave her two weeks left to live, she said ‘at least I have had six months more than the average person’. She was so inspirational and just never let it get her down.

“She’d been stuck in bed for months and hadn’t been able to do anything. It was very hard going.”

Leigh was being nursed by her mum and family towards the end of her life and passed away peacefully at home on January 16. Janet said she witnessed her daughter take her last breaths and was ‘honoured’ to have been by her side. And following her tragic death, emotional tributes and pictures were shared to Facebook by friends and family.

“I’d like to think that her story could help give strength to someone else going through this awful disease,” Janet said. “Somebody’s life could be saved by getting something checked and pushing the doctors. If Leigh hadn’t have done, then she might not have been here as long.”

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