Addie Brady: Stortford family's tribute to the ray of sunshine plagued by cancer
On Monday (Feb 19), family and friends will gather for the funeral of 16-year-old Bishop's Stortford schoolgirl Addie Brady.
Addie Brady just wanted to be normal. But in the 16 years of her all-too-short life, she was extraordinary.
Despite facing cancer twice, her legacy is a smile and a sense of fun which brought happiness to those lucky enough to know her.
She was determined to be normal, insisting on returning to her studies at Herts and Essex High School in Bishop’s Stortford while undergoing intense radiotherapy for the inoperable brain tumour which struck five years after the bone cancer which destroyed her leg but could not stop her running.
She was determined to become a surgeon or an actress and proved many times over she had the stomach and drive for both.
This week her mum Michelle, dad Tara and sister Skylar, an 18-year-old A-level student at The Bishop’s Stortford High School, are coming to terms with her loss with the support of family, friends and a wider community which was touched by Addie’s sunny outlook.
Michelle told the Independent she wanted everyone to remember the Addie who was smiling, despite the pain and trauma of her final months.
Dad Tara said: “She touched everyone, she had a big positive impact and she made everyone’s lives better – she was a genuine inspiration for people.
“She created her own rules in life – and lived by them.”
Addie was diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, at just nine, while she was a pupil at All Saints Primary School. Her spirit as she underwent surgery to remove most of her tibia bone and months of chemotherapy won her a child of courage community award, presented by Paul Winspear, now the Independent’s editor, and inspired her classmates and teacher to shave their own heads and raise money.
In the following five years, there were some obstacles – as well as regular surgery to extend her implant, in 2016 the prosthetic broke while Addie was at school and she faced a major operation to replace it.
Michelle said: “But Addie bounced through treatment and never moaned or complained or said ‘why me’.
“She was always so cheerful and optimistic.
“We all had the protection of each other. I know she feared things, but it was her way of protecting us by not talking about it.”
Addie and her family needed all that fortitude in September 2016, just before Addie’s 15th birthday.
After being the life and soul of a family party, Addie got up the next morning and was unable to speak.
At first, Michelle thought her daughter was messing around, but it soon became very clear something was terribly wrong and Michelle feared Addie was suffering a stroke.
She called an ambulance which rushed Addie, Michelle and Skylar to the Lister Hospital in Stevenage.
On the journey, Addie suffered a full seizure. Michelle said: It was terrifying and upsetting to see.
“I knew it was bad, but did not anticipate it was as bad as what we found out later.”
In the resuscitation room, Michelle feared she would lose her daughter, just at the point, after five years free of the spindle cell sarcoma that they were daring to dream that Addie had conquered cancer.
Instead, the whole family’s world was turned upside down. After initial hope that Addie had an infection, it was suggested that a brain tumour was responsible for Addie’s seizure.
Michelle said: “We were in a state of shock.”
A scan was sent to Great Ormond Street Hospital and Addie was transferred to the world-famous children’s facility for a brain biopsy.
The verdict was that she had a high-grade, inoperable glioma – a diffuse, aggressive brain tumour. And it was a new, primary cancer, unconnected to her previous disease.
Michelle scoured the world for experts who could help Addie, but it quickly became clear that immediate, intensive radiotherapy was the best option. The family was told that the tumour was spreading like a spider’s web and any attempt to operate would inevitably cause mental and physical damage.
Michelle said: “I just felt like every path we went down, a door closed.”
Nevertheless, after finishing her radiotherapy in November 2016, Addie launched herself back into normal life with her usual zeal.
She was determined to catch up with the classes she had missed so she could pursue her dream of a career in medicine.
At the start of 2017, Tara and Michelle tied the knot and their elated girls were bridesmaids. While they all enjoyed a belated honeymoon in Barbados, Addie broached the subject of her own death with her mum.
Michelle said: “She asked if she was going to die. It was really hard. I did not want to lie to her, but I did not want to say yes.
“Addie knew all too well what cancer could do – she had known other children who had passed away with the disease.”
Their focus was on finding a new treatment and the Bradys also enjoyed an idyllic summer holiday in Spain, renting a villa so family and friends could spend time with them.
By October, shortly after Addie turned 16, she called her mum from a party, crying in agonising pain. Tests showed the cancer had now moved to her spine.
Hopes were high that meant she could take part in a new treatment trial, but it soon became clear the cancer was too aggressive.
Instead, she was offered another type of chemotherapy and a devastated Addie accepted, telling her doctors very clearly that she did not want to die.
Her fighting spirit was clear when she appeared as a ring girl at a charity boxing event on November 10
Nevertheless, the family was warned Addie might not survive Christmas.
Michelle nursed Addie at home with the help of Tara and Skylar and staff from Keech Hospice Care in Luton, who also gave respite care.
She was frank about the toll Addie’s last weeks took as the disease took hold, causing hallucinations and paralysis and leaving her bedridden.
On February 1, Michelle noticed her daughter’s breathing had changed. Her little dog, cockerpoo Patsy was lying next to her.
Skylar left for school as normal and by the time Tara and Michelle called her back, Addie had passed away with her parents at her side.
Michelle said: “Addie was such a vibrant, loud, beautiful person. Addie was never low and if you were in her company, you would just feel so great.”
Her private, family funeral will take place on Monday, but donations in her memory can be made at http://www.drobinson.co.uk/in-memory-pages