Young Belfast mum Kellie McConville loses cancer battle - family pleads for early testing
The heartbroken family of a west Belfast mother who lost her battle against cancer believe she would still be alive if she had been tested for the disease sooner.
Kellie McConville (43) succumbed to bowel cancer on Tuesday night, exactly one year after being diagnosed.
Her devastated nephew Conall Mac Corraidh paid tribute to his "big sister" who was "sharp-witted and very well-liked by the many people who knew her".
He also vowed that the family would carry on her legacy by campaigning for better cancer care in Northern Ireland after she was undiagnosed for years.
"Kellie was sick for three to four years before she was diagnosed last July," he said.
"She was back and forward to A&E and her GP, but was misdiagnosed and treated for irritable bowel syndrome. Eventually they brought her in to test her for Crohn's disease."
It was at this time Conall said doctors discovered a tumour in her bowel, which had spread to her liver and lung.
"It was too late to remove it," he said.
After making an "educated and informed decision" to refuse chemotherapy, doctors estimated Kellie would only have a couple of months to live.
But family and friends rallied behind her fundraising campaign, helping collect over £20,000, which allowed her to receive innovative treatment in Germany.
Conall said the entire family were "in no doubt" that the treatment bought her precious time without the severe side-effects associated with chemotherapy, but they couldn't afford to continue.
Kellie had witnessed her mum die of cancer just months before she was given the life shattering diagnosis. Theresa McConville died in February 2016 and Kellie was adamant that she didn't want to go through the gruelling treatment which would ultimately only buy her a few short months.
"She didn't want (daughter) Mia seeing her hair falling out and see her getting sick," Conall explained. "She seen her mum go through it and saw how she ended up after just one round, so she chose to spend whatever time she had left being as healthy as possible - she had already made peace with the fact she was dying."
On Wednesday Kellie's partner Tony sat down with six-year-old Mia to tell her that her mum was gone.
"Mia was aware that her mum was sick, but we had to break the news as gently as possible. She's a brave wee thing," Conall said. The family are now calling for the bowel cancer screening test to be made available to everyone.
"Drugs is one issue, but testing and diagnosis is also a major issue which needs to be addressed," he added.
"There is a test available but only to the over-60s. Why? Kellie is not the first person aged under 60 to die of bowel cancer."
The family now want to prevent anyone else suffering. They said people are being diagnosed too late and it is costing lives. "We are not angry, we are just sad - this is what we need to be arguing about, not all the other nonsense," said Conall.
The South Eastern Trust said it was willing to meet with Kellie's family to discuss any issues.
Her funeral service will take place at 10am tomorrow in St Luke's Church, Twinbrook.
Any further donations to Kellie's campaign will be forwarded to the Northern Ireland Hospice.