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Artist Nicola Russell, who fought for extension of drug fund to Northern Ireland, loses cancer battle

By Stephanie Bell

Published 17/06/2015

Nicola Russell working on one of her paintings
Nicola Russell working on one of her paintings
Nicola with long-term partner Kenny Boyd
Nicola with one of her works
Nicola with the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn at an exhibition

Acclaimed Belfast artist Nicola Russell has lost her long battle with cancer.

Nicola (51), who this time last year spoke out in support of the campaign to have the cancer drug fund extended to Northern Ireland, passed away peacefully in the Marie Curie Hospice on Monday morning.

Renowned for her equine and floral artworks, Nicola lived in Belfast with her long-term partner Kenny Boyd (47), who is heartbroken by her loss.

Mr Boyd, who was also her business manager, last night paid tribute to Nicola, who he described as "my world".

He said: "It was art which brought us together. I saw a painting Nicola had done as part of her campaign to have Belfast City Hall turned into a museum for the arts and a public venue which would be open to people day and night.

"I was in awe of this artist who had such a great vision and I just had to meet her. I couldn't believe her energy and beauty and free spirit and the courage she showed in trying to create change in Belfast.

"She was such a free thinker and I loved her to bits. She was my world."

Nicola's paintings are in private and public collections around the world, including those of the Queen, former US President Bill Clinton and Irish President Michael D Higgins.

She was famously commissioned to paint a portrait of Clinton to commemorate his visit to Belfast in 1995 and was also invited to present the Queen with a painting called Wild Irish Colt.

Nicola had battled cancer since 2007. She was given the all-clear from breast cancer in February 2013 only for it to return in her leg and lungs two months later.

The prognosis was not good and Nicola underwent surgery to remove the cancer in her leg and was given a hormone treatment, but told her cancer was incurable.

She sought a second opinion from a private consultant who recommended Everolimus, a new drug which is prolonging the lives of breast cancer patients with secondary cancer, but which is only available through the cancer drug fund which doesn't apply to Northern Ireland.

Nicola had considered moving to England this time last year to access the drug but in the end decided the upheaval was too much.

However, she supported the campaign to get the fund introduced to Northern Ireland, telling the Belfast Telegraph last July: "It's shattering to be told that there is a treatment that will help you and prolong your life, but you can't have it."

Adding her voice to the campaign to have all cancer drugs available to patients in Northern Ireland she said: "It is a crazy situation. I've been reading about other people in articles in the Belfast Telegraph and when I read their stories my heart broke for them. I just think what is happening is inhuman.

"It has made me more aware of my own situation. Their courage in speaking out has given me the courage to talk about something which is very personal and which you wouldn't normally speak publicly about.

"I just feel I can't sit back and not lend my own voice to the campaign. I'm horrified at the situation and I don't know how any political party who stands for social justice is not hanging their heads in shame at the situation here. It is unspeakably wrong."

Nicola had been working on a new collection of floral paintings which had been inspired by three months spent in Paris as she came to terms with her prognosis.

Nicola is also survived by her parents Jill and George, brother Richard, who lives in California, and sister Gail who lives in Cornwall. Her funeral will take place at Roselawn Cemetery in Belfast at 11am on Saturday.

Belfast Telegraph

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