Cancer sufferer dead at 31 after her chemo was 'paused' due to Covid

Aged just 31 and with a six-year-old son she doted upon, Kelly Smith had everything to live for.

But the 'vivacious' beautician, who was suffering from bowel cancer, was robbed of her future when the pandemic hit.

Doctors told her in March that her chemotherapy was being paused for three months. Her cancer spread and she died on June 13.

Miss Smith is just one of thousands of cancer patients abandoned by the NHS when the coronavirus crisis hit.

Hospitals desperate to clear beds for Covid patients cancelled virtually all procedures, including vital tests and operations, when the country shut down on March 23.

Kelly Smith, 31, was told by her doctors in March that that her chemotherapy was being paused for three months - but her cancer spread and she died on June 13

Many had their diagnosis delayed while others, especially those with secondary cancers, such as Miss Smith, who were relying on treatments, drug trials or surgery to buy them time, missed out on procedures, leaving them facing curtailed life-spans.

The backlog is so long that 3 million are now waiting for screening, says Cancer Research UK. 

Charities estimate up to 35,000 extra deaths next year may be caused by cancer as a result of the pandemic.

As the UK teeters on the brink of a second wave, doctors, campaigners and MPs are demanding the Government prevents a similar shut down of cancer care. 

If they don't, the NHS will be left with a cancer time-bomb, with tens of thousands dying in the months and years to come, they say.

Life could hardly have been much better for primary school teacher Jennifer Eldridge in March.

She and her husband Jonathan had just bought their first home, he had been promoted in his Civil Service job, and their elder daughter was settling into her Reception class.

Then at Easter the active, healthy-living 40-year-old began experiencing back pain.

It was impossible to get a face-to-face appointment at the local surgery, and it took a month even to secure an online consultation. She was prescribed painkillers.

Four months later, concerns raised by a blood test she eventually had finally saw Mrs Eldridge referred for a colonoscopy – and a consultant said he had seen what seemed to be a tumour.

Jennifer Eldridge, who has stage 4 colorectal cancer, is pictured with her daughters Lina, five, and Jasmine, two

Specialists told her she had stage 4 colorectal cancer which appeared to have spread to her lungs, and she was left coming to terms with a terminal diagnosis. 

She believes that had it not been for the pandemic, she could have been diagnosed sooner – boosting her chances of seeing daughters Lina, five, and Jasmine, two, at least reach their teens.

Mrs Eldridge, of Bristol, said: 'I've been told my cancer has likely spread to my lungs, meaning it is incurable and I could have just two years to live.

'If I could have seen my GP earlier, if those supposedly 'non-urgent' tests had been carried out... the cancer might not have had the chance to spread. To suddenly have your future as a family ripped from your hands is the worst part. I won't be there with Jonathan to guide Lina and Jasmine through their childhoods.'

The couple have launched an appeal to help pay for treatments not covered by the NHS.

To donate, visit: 

Professor Karol Sikora, a consultant oncologist at the University of Buckingham, warned: 'Cancer is not a disease where you can put people on the shelf for three months. It's not like hip replacements or cataract surgery where patients on the waiting list face immense discomfort – if cancer isn't diagnosed and treated promptly, it can spread, and more people will die.'

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: 'There will be tragic consequences if ministers do not restore cancer services and guarantee patients the treatment they need.'

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: 'This obsession with one issue – Covid – is disastrous. A second lockdown would be an unmitigated disaster in health terms: fewer cancer patients will get treatment, and there will be more deaths.'

Professor Pat Price, a consultant oncologist and founder of the Catch Up With Cancer Campaign, told the Mail: 'The stark reality is that if we don't get through this backlog, patients won't get the treatment they need and will die. Cancer patients are as important as Covid patients.'

Miss Smith, from Macclesfield, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in April 2017. She underwent an operation to remove part of her colon but the cancer had spread to her liver.

Over the next three years Miss Smith, mother to six-year-old Finn, underwent several rounds of chemotherapy and immunotherapy but each time the cancer returned. In December she was told it had spread to her lungs, liver, intestines and brain. 

She was midway through another round of chemotherapy, which she believed was buying her time, when the pandemic hit.

Shortly before her death, Miss Smith said: 'I'm angry at Covid and that I got put on this break because I don't think I should have.

'I'm terrified – absolutely terrified. I don't want to die. I feel like I've got so much more to do.'

Craig Russell, 51, Miss Smith's step-father, told the Mail that her life had been 'traded' for those of Covid patients. 

'Kelly's loss has been devastating to our family. So many people have suffered the same as we have, losing loved ones. We will never really get over the fact we lost Kelly.'

Mr Russell and his wife, Mandy, Miss Smith's mother, have set up a petition, which has gathered more than 316,000 signatures, urging the Government to end cancer treatment delays in the pandemic. 

Last week the couple met Health Secretary Matt Hancock to express their concerns.

Mr Russell said: 'Cancer is a far bigger threat than Covid ever could be. Every day 500 people die from cancer and those numbers are starting to increase because there is no treatment. Sadly, it is too late for Kelly, but there is still time to save others.'

Maxine Smith, 32, a hairdresser and a mother of two, is another cancer sufferer who feels her life may be cut short because of the virus.

She said: 'Cancer patients like me were just left, like sitting ducks. The cancer has been eating away at my body. I feel like I'm being murdered, plain and simple.'

Jennifer Eldridge, 40, had a delayed diagnosis because of Covid, and was only diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer in August – four months after her symptoms began.

The married mother of two has been given just two years to live. 

She said: 'It's utterly crushing to think if this hadn't happened during a pandemic, things could be so different.'

Responding to the heartbreaking accounts, Professor Sikora said: 'This really illustrates how the virus has created so much suffering indirectly. The Government mustn't make the mistake of shutting everything down again. That would be the wrong decision.'

Dying mother: They need to stop focusing just on Corona

A mother-of-two whose lung cancer spread to her brain after her operation was cancelled said: 'The NHS should be for everybody, not just Covid patients.'

Beth Purvis, 41, said: 'My prognosis is not good. I've likely got four months to a year left to live.'

Mrs Purvis had been scheduled to have a tumour removed from her right lung on March 25. But it was cancelled with only a week's notice amid the pandemic.

Mother-of-two Beth Purvis's lung cancer (pictured with husband Richard and children Joseph, 12, and Abigail, 10) spread to her brain after her operation was cancelled

She said: 'I was devastated, I just burst into tears. It is a critical operation because it could help buy me time.

'I will never know if that operation could have saved my life. It might have done. But it was cancelled, and then I found out at the end of May it had spread to my brain.' 

Mrs Purvis said she and husband Richard, a painter and decorator, have always been up front with their children, Joseph 12, and Abigail, ten, about her treatment.

She said: 'At the time, I did understand why the hospital needed to free up beds. But that didn't make it any easier. My message to the Health Service is to try to focus on not just Covid. The Government haven't made it as clear as they could.'

Mrs Purvis, a legal assistant from Essex, added: 'Who knows what will happen. I have to stay positive.

'If I can help prevent someone else going through this, then what's happened to me hasn't happened for no reason.' 

'I had to bring our wedding forward'

Maxine Smith is looking forward to marrying her builder fiance, Mike Peacock. 

She has brought the wedding forward to next week because she has no idea how long they will have together.

Miss Smith, 32, mother to George, seven, and Mia, five, was diagnosed with cervical cancer two years ago. 

Maxine Smith, 32, has brought her wedding to her builder fiance Mike Peacock forward to next week because she has no idea how long they will have together

She was in the middle of a course of chemotherapy when the country locked down in March.

The former hairdresser finished that treatment and was declared free of tumours, but a drugs trial to keep the disease at bay was shelved. 

Last month, she discovered the cancer had returned. She says patients such as her were left like 'sitting ducks'.

'Everything was put on hold because of Covid (but) the cancer has been eating away at my body. I've now got four tumours. Lockdown has... allowed my cancer to progress and stolen precious time from me. I just want to see my kids through school, I just want more time.'

Miss Smith, of Cheadle, Manchester, added: 'I still work, I pay my taxes, but I was left when Covid came.

'I've never been so disgusted in my whole life.'