Belfast Telegraph

Tragic skin cancer victim’s family in bid to help others

By Brendan McDaid

The tragic death of a former Belfast Telegraph employee has inspired her family and friends to raise funds for research into the skin cancer melanoma.

Bangor woman Julie Lowry, who was a sales controller at the paper, died prematurely aged just 45 in August 2010, little over a year after she was diagnosed with the condition.

Julie’s husband Robert Lowry, her sister Lynne McMillan and close friend Jos Scott have organised a charity showjumping day at the Eglinton Equestrian Centre this Saturday from 9.30am.

Mrs McMillan said they wanted to raise awareness of melanoma, for which there is no cure.

The event is being sponsored by the Belfast Telegraph, and a host of businesses and individuals have also donated gifts and goods to help make the day a success.

“My sister was very young when she died. She was a loving, kind, very capable person and a good friend and a talented musician,” said Lynne (53).

“She was a prize-winning flautist. She also had a real gift for mimicry and could tell a great story. She was diagnosed in March 2009 and part of the reason why we are doing this is that there is no effective treatment.

“You always have hope. You hope that she will be the first one the treatment will work for.

“Patients get conventional chemotherapy and Julie had a first-time round of treatment and two more chemotherapies but they proved ineffective. With this cancer the cells resist the chemicals and the chemicals can’t get through. That is why we are keen to do this for research.

“Fifteen, 20, 30 years ago, other cancers like bowel cancer could have been fatal but there has been progress made there.

“If they don’t do research they will never find anything for melanoma.”

Mrs McMillan said case of melanoma are increasing in Europe and in the UK, probably due to people going on more foreign holidays.

“There has been publicity in terms of trying to raise awareness of the importance of using sunscreen, wearing a hat,” she said.

“Prevention is clearly better than cure and with this cancer there is no cure.

“The reason your skin turns brown is it is being damaged by the sun.

“That is the skin’s reaction - it releases melanin in the skin, hence the melanoma. Better to get your tan out of a bottle.”

Lynne said that neither Julie nor herself were ever sunbathers which made it all the more shocking when a lump Julie found on her neck turned out to be skin cancer.

“It was unusual, nobody expected it,” Lynne said.

“Also, it didn’t have any pigment, there was no warning, until the lump appeared. Melanoma spreads before you know it is there. It was incredibly rapid.”

Describing the impact of Julie’s death on the family, Lynne said: “It has been the most horrific experience.

“It has been incredibly difficult for our parents and my brother Tom who lives in Exeter. It has been difficult for all of us.”

Julie and Lynne had moved to rural areas of Co Londonderry before tragedy struck.

“We moved up here when we got the opportunity to buy a wee bit of land,” said Lynne.

“That was the whole idea, a new life in the country.

“It hasn’t worked out that way. I do have a new life in the country but Julie doesn’t.”

Following Julie’s death the family learned from a dermatologist at Altnagelvin Hospital of research into melanoma being carried out in London.

The money raised this weekend will be sent over to help fund this work.

It was at Altnagelvin that Julie received her initial treatment before being treated at the CIty Hospital in her final weeks with radiotherapy.

Julie was one of hundreds of sick people who are forced to make the gruelling four hour round trip from the North West for treatment in Belfast.

Widespread anger over a decision earlier this year not to go ahead with a planned radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin eventually led to a major campaign and the decision being overturned.

“Julie was already really ill when she had to make that journey,” Lynne said.

“At one point she had to go by ambulance. Bringing an end to all that to-ing and fro-ing and carry on won’t help us but it will help other people in the future.”

The equestrian event on Saturday has already generated a lot of interest from across Northern Ireland.

“We are hoping it will be a really good day,” Lynne said.

Factfile

Melanoma, also called malignant melanoma, is a rare type of skin cancer.

It’s serious because the cancer can spread to other organs. When cancer spreads it is known as metastasis. Melanoma can start in an existing mole but it can also develop in normal-looking skin.

If diagnosis and treatment do not begin early the outlook is poor.

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