For mum of two, Claire Allen, 23, pregnancy should have saved her life. but a change in the law hid a silent killer inside her. now her mum Michele Brackley, 43, is fighting to make Claire’s dying wish come true.
Like many teen mums, Claire Allan was nervous when she discovered she was pregnant at 18, she wrote a letter to her mum Michele, now 43, to break the news. She’d met her boyfriend Mike McGovern, then 18, at a New Year’s party a year before. Training to be a nursery nurse, Claire regularly travelled from her home town of Liverpool to visit Mike in Newcastle-Under-Lyme. Mike said: ‘Claire loved children, so once we got over the shock we were excited when a scan revealed we were having a girl.’ Claire gave birth to baby Megan on November 14th 2003.
Due to Claire’s age, Claire missed one post-natal treatment; the cervical smear, a test which saves around 4,500 lives every year. In 2005 Claire’s mum Michele had a scare when results from a smear test showed
Mum of three Michele said: ‘I waited nervously for the results of my second test and was relieved to discover there was nothing to worry about. I nagged Claire to get a smear done herself’. But when Claire asked her doctor for a smear she was told she was too young.
In 2007 Claire discovered she was pregnant again, but this pregnancy didn’t go so smoothly. At 32 weeks she started bleeding heavily. Midwives assured her everything was fine, but the bleeding continued. Claire was in agonising labour for three days. Despite having contractions, her cervix wouldn’t open. Doctors eventually triggered the labour and Claire gave birth to Millie-May on 18th March 2008.
Most women bleed for up to six weeks after birth, but after three months Claire was still suffering from abdominal pain and bleeding. After pleading with her GP, who initially thought she had a kidney infection, Claire was finally referred to a gynaecologist and received shocking news. She had an 8cm tumour on her cervix and needed emergency surgery.
Michele said: ‘After all her complaints, the examinations had missed this time bomb inside her’. Surgeons took a sample from the tumour but Claire had to wait 24 hours for the biopsy results.
Mike said:’The consultant looked me and Claire in the eyes before telling us it was cancer.
‘Claire was too shocked to react. She collected Megan from school as normal and went for dinner at the local pub.
‘She didn’t behave like a 22-year old who had just been told she had cancer.’ Claire began a six week course of intense radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The treatment made Claire violently ill, but she always managed to be brave for the girls. Mike said:’We decided not to tell the girls how serious Claire’s illness was. We told them she had to go to hospital to treat her ‘poorly tummy’.
In November an MRI scan revealed that the tumour had shrunk but not disappeared. A hysterectomy was Claire’s best chance of survival, she would never have another child.
Mike said: ‘The surgery was planned for January so Claire concentrated on planning a nice Christmas for the girls. ‘We didn’t discuss the fact that it could be her last Christmas, but we both knew it needed to be special.’ After two hours in theatre, surgeons failed to perform the hysterectomy. The radiotherapy had damaged Claire’s organs so they couldn’t remove her womb without damaging her bowel and bladder.
The only option was to perform a pelvic exoneration, leaving Claire with urostomy and colostomy bags. Mike took voluntary redundancy to care for Claire at home.
Mike said: ‘On Valentine’s Day 2009 we went to the pub where we met and I asked her to marry me. ‘After all we’d been through I wanted her to have the wedding she dreamed about.’ Claire’s spirits lifted and she spent hours with Michele in hospital flicking through wedding magazines.
The operation was successful and after a few days in intensive care Claire was home for Millie-May’s first birthday. To celebrate Claire’s recovery, her step-dad Clive, 54, booked a family holiday to Euro Disney. Michele treated Claire to tickets to a Take That concert, but when the date in June came it wasn’t how they had imagined.
Michele said: ‘Claire had a blood clot at the top of her leg, so she was in too much pain to walk. ‘Problems with her urostomy bags made her sick, so she went back to hospital for more checks. ‘I was shaking as I watched the consultant appear with the results, I knew it was bad news.
‘The cancer had spread to Claire’s liver stomach and lungs and he told my beautiful daughter she was going to die.’ ‘I wanted to hold her tight as she screamed hysterically: “Not without my babies, I can’t die”.
Claire didn’t want to know how long she had to live. Meanwhile Michele wanted to make Claire’s wedding dreams come true. Claire didn’t want to marry in hospital, but sadly she had no idea how little time she had.
Claire returned home to spend as much time as possible with the girls. She was weak but the day before Euro Disney she increased her morphine to be strong enough to fly. Michele said: ‘She enjoyed one day in the park watching her girls laughing on the rides. But returning to the hotel room, she couldn’t hide the pain in her face. ‘We called the doctor who insisted Claire flew home. Staying behind with the girls was the hardest thing I have ever done.
Two weeks later Claire took a turn for the worse. Michele said: ‘The doctors told me it would be a matter of hours, so I called all the family in, but once again Claire’s bravery surprised us all. ‘The girls came to visit their mummy. Claire sat up in bed laughing at her brother Aaron, 21 and her sister Sam, 18, playing on the Wii.
‘We ordered a Chinese takeaway and Claire mocked me feeding her, saying: “Come on Mum, do the choo-choo train like when I was a kid.” Mike said: ‘When Claire kissed the girls goodbye I knew her heart was breaking. ‘We had planned to sit them down and explain what was happening, but Claire’s time was cut too short.
That night Claire was in pain and couldn’t lie down. Michele said: ‘I realised what was happening, she was dying, but she was resisting it. ‘The medical staff encouraged us to increase Claire’s painkillers to help her relax. It was a hard decision to make, but we couldn’t watch her in agony any longer’ At 6.25pm on 17th August 2009 Claire passed away with her family sat around her bed.
Michele said: ‘At the end there was peace. I brushed Claire’s hair and Sam painted her nails, just how Claire would have wanted to be.’ Mike said: ‘The girls were too young to understand when I told them Mummy wouldn’t be coming home. ‘So to mark Claire’s birthday we took them to Claire’s grave to release balloons into the sky. ‘Their bravery has helped me to have hope, Megan, now six, likes to tell everyone “Mummy is in heaven shopping with all the angels”.
During Claire’s illness, she focused her spare energy into planning a campaign to change the age restrictions enforced on cervical smears. Michele and Clive have taken on Claire’s final wish as their own.
Michele said: ‘Claire understood the tragic irony. She was too young to have a cervical smear, but not too young to die of cervical cancer. ‘I will keep my promise to Claire to get the law changed. ‘
The family has organised fundraising events and have nearly collected the 10,000 signatures they need to visit Downing Street in person to request a change in the law.
As Michele talks about her promise to Claire, she clutches a letter from the Prime Minister in her hand, a sign of her commitment to protect other young women from the tragic illness that stole her own daughter.
To offer your support to the campaign to change the law visit http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/smear20/.