Sunderland cancer gene mum loses second battle with the disease

Kay McGurrell (left) with sister Karen McGurrell
Kay McGurrell (left) with sister Karen McGurrell
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A MUM with a rare cancer gene has died after fighting the killer condition twice.

After winning a battle with breast cancer when she was just 23, Kay McGurrell, from Fulwell, was determined to live life to the full, throwing herself into fund-raising and family life.

But the rare gene which caused her to develop cancer early, struck again a month ago killing the 34-year-old mum-of-two.

Today her close-knit family spoke of how vibrant she was up until her final days.

Kay’s partner of 15 years, Simon Harrison, 41, said: “Because of what she had been through when she was younger, she was always full of life. She always put everybody before herself. She lived every birthday and Christmas as if it was her last, she was a celebration of life.”

Spurred on by surviving her first cancer diagnosis, Kay, along with sister Karen, 38, became a passionate fund-raiser for cancer research.

They would cross Race for Life finish lines hand-in-hand after discovering they suffered from a genetic condition known as Li-Fraumeni’s syndrome, which affects only 400 families in the world and increases their risk of developing cancer early in life.

Karen, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 14 and breast cancer at 32, said: “Doctors said at the time that Kay was the youngest woman they knew who had developed breast cancer. She wanted to support other young women going through the trauma of the changes it makes to your body. She was a very positive person and she wanted to show them that there was light at the end of the tunnel.”

Kay had been enjoying family life, juggling working at Marks & Spencer with caring for daughter Janey, seven, who has cerebral palsy, and raising eldest daughter Abigail, 13, a pupil at Monkwearmouth School, when she began to experience aching pains in her arms and hands.

On January 30 she was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. Her health quickly deteriorated and within a month she lapsed into a coma and died on February 27 surrounded by her family at Sunderland Royal Hospital.

Karen said: “Kay knew she was poorly, but she didn’t think it would happen this soon. She was planning to go to New York with the family this year. But when she went into a coma doctors told us that her death would be imminent and we were able to say our goodbyes. It was like she was in a deep sleep, she felt no pain.”

Kay had been referred to see genetics specialists at Newcastle’s Centre for Life in 2003 after her and her sister’s first diagnosis with cancer where it was discovered they carried the rare gene.

Dad John also died young from cancer of the pancreas, when he was 45 as did his brothers Kevin and Anthony.

After an initial mastectomy when she was 23, Kay chose to have a second breast removed the following year to reduce her chances of developing cancer again.

Mum Margaret, 61, said: “No matter how poorly Kay was, she was always smiling and always glamorous. To look at her you would never know how poorly she was.

“She was fantastic with the children and always let them know what was going on. Abigail has been a real support for her dad and sister. The children are a fantastic example of how well Simon and Kay have parented them. They are her legacy.”

Tests show that Abigail does not have the gene and Janey will be tested when she is older.

l Kay’s funeral is at 1.30pm on Friday at St Mary’s Church, Bridge Street.

l The family would like to thank staff at Sunderland Royal Hospital and the RVI, as well as Dr Choi at Southwick Health Centre, Dr Horridge at the Niall Quinn Children’s Centre, Fiona Douglas and Alex at the Centre for Life, the district nurses who cared for Kay and Duckworths Funeral Home.

Twitter: @sunechokaty