Tributes to NI woman who died age 36 after skin cancer diagnosis

The family of a popular young woman from Derry, is raising awareness for skin cancer after the devastation of losing a loved one to the disease.

Fiona Brady, 36, died at Altnagelvin Hospital on January 29, 2024. She was the loving partner of Gary Devenney, beloved daughter of Bernadette and Connolly, dear sister of Roisin and Gerald and godmother of Caleb.

Fiona's sister has appealed to anyone with concerns regarding their health, to push for investigation, as she feels her sister was "failed".

Read more: NI woman's appeal to stay safe in sun after shock skin cancer diagnosis at 22

Read more: Belfast mum diagnosed with cancer after noticing 'odd-looking spot'

Speaking about what her sister went through, Fiona's sister Roisin said: "My sister discovered a mole on her stomach in 2014 which appeared to be changing.

"She went to the doctors a few times about it and was eventually red flagged over in the skin clinic in Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry. The mole was checked but she was advised that there were no major concerns, but to keep an eye, and if it goes darker, to come back. In between 2016 and 2018, Fiona noticed the mole was getting bigger, and very concerning at this stage.

"She went back to the doctors and was red flagged once again. This time, they ran tests and discovered it was skin cancer. The mole was removed by surgery and Fiona was told they had cut it all out. No preventative chemotherapy was offered and she was visually checked for three years, once every six months. In 2021, she was given the all clear.

"Fiona was as delighted as we were. When you are told good news, you trust that the system has done everything for you. Looking back now, we wonder why Fiona was never given a final CT scan to ensure there was no trace of cancer in her body before she was sent away stating confidently that she was 'cancer free'.

"Fast forward to June 2023, Fiona started to feel very tired all the time, which she put down to work. She then started to get a constant numb arm and bad pain in her back. She went to her GP and instead of being red flagged straight away, considering she had cancer previously, she was told that it was sciatica, and given pain killers.

"She then attended another appointment and was referred to a physio, who told Fiona that she didn't exercise enough. Fiona was told to sign up for a 5K. At this stage, Fiona should have been red flagged because of her symptoms. She was experiencing severe pain and numbness in random places."

Fiona went to Italy with her partner Gary in the middle of August 2023 and "took a serious turn for the worst" where her whole body was in severe pain and at this stage, small bruises started appearing on her chest. When she FaceTimed Roisin to show her, Roisin said she knew the cancer was back.

"She came home and went straight to a private physio who wrote her a letter to go straight to A&E, which she did," Roisin added.

"Fiona was diagnosed with cancer straight away and within a few weeks, we had been told it was incurable but treatable. That basically meant terminal. Her cancer had spread like wildfire in her body.

"It was so aggressive and watching the pain my sister was in will haunt me for the rest of my life. Fiona was was diagnosed in September, and passed away on January 29.

"Four months is all that Fiona got, after being diagnosed. She was only 36. She was an absolutely stunning girl with everything going for her. She had her whole life in front of her.

"We can't help but feel so much anger towards the system. Skin cancer can be treated if handled correctly, and our system failed my sister. Fiona knew something wasn't right but wasn't taken seriously multiple times.

"I want her story to make people aware of the seriousness of skin cancer, but to also let people know not to let the system feel like nothing is wrong. You know your body more than anyone else, and if something doesn't feel right, make sure you scream until you are heard.

"A scan in 2021 potentially could have seen Fiona's cancer and I will never understand why she was signed off and not even advised to get a scan privately.

"Our hearts are shattered without Fiona. Losing someone you love so much to such a horrible disease is just an unimaginable pain.

"To anyone reading this, please get your moles checked, and let Fiona's story inspire you to be careful about any changes in your health. Cancer is on the rise and I hope by sharing Fiona's story, it can help at least one person."

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Northern Ireland, accounting for more than 31% of all cancers diagnosed. Over 4,000 people develop skin cancer each year and almost 1 in 10 of these are malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

Malignant melanoma rates have risen over the past 30 years from an average of 103 cases per year in the mid-1980s, to 382 cases in recent years.

This Sun Awareness Week [6-12 May], the Public Health Agency (PHA) and Cancer Focus Northern Ireland are encouraging everyone to be UV aware and get the best from your sunscreen to help reduce your risk of skin cancer.

Dr Louise Herron, Deputy Director of Public Health at the PHA, said: "As the days begin to get brighter, many of us will be keen to spend some time outside in the sun. While sunlight is important for our overall health and wellbeing, too much UV radiation from the sun can cause damage to the skin and lead to skin cancer. The majority of all skin cancers are preventable by undertaking simple sun protection measures such as using the right sunscreen and applying it properly.

"In Northern Ireland the UV levels are often 3 or more, even on cool or cloudy days, meaning the rays from the sun can be strong enough to damage our skin and eyes. Your skin is damaged by sun exposure over your lifetime, whether you burn or not. So, as the days get longer and the sun gets stronger, it is important for everyone to wear sunscreen correctly for maximum protection."

Doreen Regan, Skin Cancer Prevention Coordinator at Cancer Focus NI, added: "We would encourage everyone to follow our simple steps to help protect your skin and reduce your risk of skin cancer."

To find out more about taking care in the sun, visit

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