Push to learn lessons from Jess, 27, who lost her life to cancer

Jess Brady, a satellite engineer at Airbus in Stevenage, who died of cancer aged 27

Jess Brady, a satellite engineer at Airbus in Stevenage, lost her life to cancer aged just 27 - Credit: Courtesy of Andrea Brady

Vital lessons which can be learned from a young woman who died of cancer, months after struggling to be seen by doctors, have been debated in Parliament.

Jess Brady, a satellite engineer at Airbus in Stevenage, began feeling unwell in June last year. She contacted her GP surgery on 20 occasions over the next five months and was misdiagnosed with long COVID.

On November 26 last year, having switched to private healthcare, Jess was given the devastating news she had Stage 4 adenocarcinoma - cancer that forms in mucus-secreting glands - and it had spread to her spine, liver, stomach, lungs and lymph nodes. She died on December 20, aged just 27.

A petition launched by Jess's parents, Andrea and Simon, calling on the government to help improve awareness and diagnosis of cancer in young people, has been signed by more than 214,000 people and was delivered to Downing Street last month.

The petition calls for an awareness campaign, ring-fenced funding to allow GPs to refer patients with increased urgency, and more specialist staff and equipment at hospitals to make swifter diagnoses.

It was brought to debate in Parliament on Friday by MP for Hertford and Stortford, Julie Marson.

She said: "This debate does not belong to me. This debate belongs to Jess Brady. It is her tragic story which brings us all here today.

"Andrea and Simon have told me they are utterly broken, and yet, with dignity and determination, they have committed to improving cancer diagnosis among young adults. They wish to ensure that, in Jess's name, others don't have to go through what they have gone through."

Jess Brady, a satellite engineer at Airbus in Stevenage, lost her life to cancer aged 27

Jess contacted her GP surgery 20 times over five months - Credit: Courtesy of Andrea Brady

Most Read

Andrea says contributing factors to Jess's late diagnosis include fragmented care at GP level - with no one person looking at the whole picture - a lack of face-to-face appointments during the pandemic, and the assumption it was unlikely to be anything serious at her young age.

Addressing the House of Commons, Julie said: "There are four key elements to Jess's story - the fragmented nature of the GP care, the misdiagnosis that caused so much pain to Jess and her family, how Jess's age helped shape the process, and how we need to use Jess's story to make sure the same mistakes are not repeated.

"Jess really needed one person on her case, looking at all the evidence and looking at things holistically. The impact of not having that was profound. Vital clues were lost or not examined properly.

"One of the biggest tragedies is that Jess's story is not an isolated incident. There are many other people who have found themselves in a similar situation, and will continue to, unless we learn the lessons we can now."

Joining the debate, Oliver Heald, MP for North East Hertfordshire, suggested "there are at least two areas where some improvement in the way in which we deal with cancer in young people is needed". He said there needs to be a bigger focus on cancer in young people at GP level, perhaps with a lead in each practice, and improved blood tests.

Responding, the Minister of State for Health, Edward Argar, said: "We are working nationally on the long-term plan for early diagnosis of cancers in order to help avoid situations such as Jess's in the future."

He referenced the rollout of rapid diagnostic centres, online cancer education programmes for GPs, and the Galleri blood test, which can detect more than 50 types of cancer in the blood, but is currently only available in America. He said he hopes a current trial in the UK "will yield innovation that will make a huge difference".

Jess Brady, a satellite engineer at Airbus in Stevenage, who lost her life to cancer aged 27

On the day of her funeral, a satellite Jess helped design was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, inscribed with the words 'Thank you, Jess!' - Credit: Courtesy of Andrea Brady

Andrea said: "Julie forcefully echoed our calls for change.

"The debate referenced the countless others who have found themselves in Jess’s position, recognising that, devastatingly, her story is not an isolated case.

"There is still much work to be done. We will not give up. Change is essential."

She added: "If just one patient, suffering from acute and persistent symptoms, listens to Julie's speech or reads the petition and is encouraged to push for further investigations, and, if that person is consequently diagnosed with cancer early, some good has been done.

"Or, if one GP reconsiders an initial diagnosis, re-examines the facts and refers a patient for rapid diagnostic testing, and, if that person is consequently diagnosed with cancer early, some good has been done."

To sign the petition, visit https://www.change.org/p/matt-hancock-improve-the-awareness-and-diagnosis-of-cancer-in-young-adults.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter