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Liverpool mum’s ‘never too young’ message after losing her 24-year-old daughter to bowel cancer

2 months ago

Liverpool mum’s ‘never too young’ message after losing her 24-year-old daughter to bowel cancer

In her early 20s, Millie Grace was considered too young to have bowel cancer despite having several red flag symptoms.

But just 10 months after her cancer was found during an unrelated operation and diagnosed as stage 4, glamorous fun-loving Millie died aged 24.

Right to the end, she never stopped believing she would beat the disease. Even as she lay in a Marie Curie hospice bed in Liverpool, staff arranged for her to have her lashes, brows and nails done as she planned a trip to London with mum Tess.

Now, two-and-a-half years since she lost her youngest daughter in October 2021, social worker Tess is raising awareness of bowel cancer among young people and fundraising for the hospice where Millie spent the last weeks of her life.

Marie Curie Hospice

She plans to tell Millie’s story in schools, colleges, universities, youth groups, sports clubs; anywhere those in their teens and 20s might hear it.

More than anything she wants them not to be too embarrassed to get checked if they’re worried about symptoms.

She also wants health professionals to appreciate just how difficult it might be for a young person to come forward and discuss something so incredibly personal.

“Millie’s symptoms started when she was about 17, she’d noticed blood from her bum, but she was mortified. She didn’t even tell me about it for a long time,” says Tess.

“For Millie to even tell the doctor was such a big thing, but when she did go she was told one of the tests was an internal finger one. As soon as she heard that, she said she wasn’t going back, there was no chance Millie was ever going to have that examination.

“So for me, raising awareness is about two things – I want young people talking about it, so if they’ve got a symptom they’re not ashamed to get it checked.

Marie Curie Hospice

“And it’s around understanding how our young people feel. This isn’t something they’re likely to go to the doctors with, and if they do go I think doctors need to be mindful about how it’s approached so not to frighten them off.”

Although she’d experienced bleeding, Millie didn’t have other bowel cancer symptoms and Tess believes she wasn’t specifically tested for it because of her age.

“Her blood tests showed she had no anaemia, which is a big signal, and she said she hadn’t lost weight even though when we look back at photos she’d lost a lot. Was that a symptom or was it caused by something else like working full time or going to the gym more? 

“I think sometimes symptoms are there but until you take a step back and see the whole picture you don’t always link them together. Constipation on its own or weight loss on its own could be anything, there are always other reasons.

“Before her diagnosis, I remember saying to one of the doctors ‘it’s nothing sinister is it?’ and being told she was far too young for it to be bowel cancer. When the consultant was telling us it was stage 4 he said it was extremely rare in someone Millie’s age. 

“Bowel cancer is thought to be an older person’s cancer, so it’s not something GPs generally consider testing for in somebody of Millie’s age. I’m trying to change that. 

“If people spoke more about bowel cancer in young people it might have been on mine and Millie’s radar to think, actually, it could be this.

“I want to enable our very young adults to be aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer and to feel assertive and knowledgeable enough to insist on being tested if they have any.”

By the time Millie, from Norris Green, was diagnosed her cancer had already spread to her liver and ovaries. She endured gruelling chemotherapy with typical feistiness and positivity, says Tess.

“She’d go to chemo with a full face of make-up and hair done, then she’d go to the pub with her mates or out afterwards. There was never any, ‘I’ll go home to sleep for a couple of days’ she was always going off to do something.”

When she was admitted to the hospice in Woolton in September 2021, Tess – who has an older daughter Hope – didn’t tell Millie just how ill she was.

“I didn’t tell her she wasn’t going to live, what good would it have done?” says her mum. “She was in there thinking she was resting and getting pain meds and she’d be out soon and going to London with me in a couple of weeks. 

“She had her lashes and nails done two days before she died. In her head, she was going to get better. She wasn’t in denial, I think it was too much to take in and that was just her, she just got on with things. She was always amazing, in every way, but once she got this diagnosis she was like a firecracker, she determined it wasn’t going to let it get her down.”

To raise funds for the hospice, as a thank you for their incredible care of Millie, Tess has organised a fitness afternoon at Walton Sports Centre on Sunday April 14, 12.30-2.30pm. There’ll be a bouncy castle for kids and two hours of fitness for £5 entry fee featuring Hiitstep, spinning, box lift with weights and clubercise, plus a raffle with prizes including Creamfields and Reminisce Arena tickets. Everyone is donating their time so every penny will go directly to Liverpool Marie Curie Hospice.

Find out more about Tess’s campaign here.

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