Melanie Bray, a 33-year-old mom of five, died tragically after a breast cancer diagnosis came too late—despite telling doctors, for years, that something was wrong.
At 27, six years before her death, Bray discovered a lump in her breast. The U.K. mom visited a local hospital twice to get checked for abnormalities. Both times, specialists allegedly disregarded the lump, claiming that at her young age, and with no family history, it could not be cancer. They summed the lump up to a symptom of breastfeeding all five of her kids and sent her home.
Bray couldn't put the lumps from her mind—especially when she discovered another one on the other side of her breast in 2013. That year confirmed what Bray feared most: She had cancer all along and now there was nothing doctors could do. "She was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer," her mother, Janet Willoughby, told the Daily Mail. "And we knew from then it was terminal. The type of cancer she had was not a hereditary one, so having no family history of breast cancer had nothing to do with it."
Barely 30 and facing the end of her life—with five beloved children under her care—Bray never complained. "She was amazing and just accepted her situation. She was so strong for her children," explained her mother. "I think the whole way through I only saw her cry three times."
Instead of fading away, or spending her last few years bitter, Bray launched a campaign encouraging patients to advocate for themselves when a diagnosis feels wrong. In addition, her mother claimed she raised nearly $20,000 for charity while battling her illness.
Bray passed away on March 21, 2017, leaving her children to her mother. Her death, however painful, has given her family a sense of purpose—Willoughby and her grandchildren, Elise, 9, Harley, 11, Caitlin 14, Chloe 14, and Shona, 18, are dedicated to Bray's mission. "Melanie knew, she knew something wasn't right in herself, but they didn't listen," Willoughby explained. "Don't ignore it. If you are not happy with your diagnosis then keep going back, and back and back. Keep pushing the doctors for another answer."
A spokesperson for the Royal Cornwall Hospital, where Bray visited first in 2010 and again in 2013, recently released a statement, expressing their condolences: "Melanie was seen in the Mermaid Center in May and June 2010 and then again in 2013 when her diagnosis was made. Sadly early stage disease will not always be apparent, despite appropriate diagnostic tests, and in the case of more aggressive cancers they can develop rapidly over a very short period of time."
Follow Marie Claire on Facebook for the latest celeb news, beauty tips, fascinating reads, livestream video, and more.
I Wear Exclusively Neutrals—These 14 Items From Banana Republic's MDW Sale Speak To Me
Live your best life in linen.
By Julia Marzovilla
Kylie Jenner and I Share The Same Favorite Phone Case Brand
The serotonin-boosting case I can't go a day without.
By Gabrielle Ulubay
The 14 Must-Haves Marie Claire Editors Are Buying During Nordstrom's Enormous Sale
Thousands of cult products are discounted during Nordstrom's Half-Yearly Sale—but they're going fast.
By Julia Marzovilla
I'm an Egg Donor. Why Was It So Difficult for Me to Tell People That?
Much like abortion, surrogacy, and IVF, becoming an egg donor was a reproductive choice that felt unfit for society’s standards of womanhood.
By Lauryn Chamberlain
After Years of Fertility Struggles I Had a Baby—and Then Twins 7 Weeks Later
M.M.LaFleur founder and CEO Sarah LaFleur shares her long, difficult, and surprising journey to parenthood.
By Sally Holmes
Dear Survivor: You Are Enough by Merely Existing
In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Rise founder Amanda Nguyen writes a love letter to her younger self.
By Amanda Nguyen
Dear Survivor: Tarana Burke Wants You to Hold On to Hope
"We need to heal—and in order to heal, we must have the capacity to hope that that work to end sexual violence IS possible."
By Tarana Burke
Friendship, Infertility & Moving Forward
There’s no rulebook for navigating your pregnancy while your best friend struggles to conceive. I learned that the hard way.
By Victoria Lamson
When Your Breast Cancer Journey Takes an Unexpected Turn
After an annual mammogram in June revealed suspicious calcifications, breast cancer survivor Kai McGee underwent a partial mastectomy. Now, she's grappling with the outcome of that surgery.
By Kai McGee
On Being a Black Woman, Mother, & Breast Cancer Survivor
Kai McGee's intersecting identities have shaped her breast cancer journey—and influence the decisions she's making now about her future.
By Kai McGee
The Coldness of Enduring Breast Cancer in a Covid-19 World
In June, breast cancer survivor Kai McGee went to the hospital for her annual mammogram and ultrasound. Now she has to decide the next steps in her treatment journey, an already-stressful process made worse by the isolation of Covid-19.
By Kai McGee