Derbyshire family 'livid' after death of beautiful young woman from cervical cancer which was 'not picked up'
Rebecca Clarke was a beautiful mother, daughter and sister described as a ‘shining light’ by people she worked with.
She loved cooking, baking and nice restaurants – meeting up with a close circle of friends one night every week so they could prepare ‘gorgeous’ meals for each other.
Rebecca doted on her six-year-old daughter Florence, and family and colleagues say she was a caring person who always put others first.
Through her job at Barlborough NHS Treatment Centre, near Chesterfield, where she worked as a GP liaison officer, Rebecca was more aware than most of the importance of staying as healthy as possible and attending regular medical checks.
This makes the story of Rebecca’s final 12 months particularly cruel.
In May 2020, in the middle of the first coronavirus lockdown, Rebecca discovered she had an invasive form of cervical cancer.
She underwent intensive periods of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and there were moments of real hope, with Rebecca even ringing the bell at hospital when everyone believed she was recovering.
Rebecca’s mum Julie says her daughter attended every single smear test from the age of 21.
However, in February this year Rebecca was told the tests had not picked up on cell abnormalities, news Rebecca’s family says ‘broke her’.
Three months later Rebecca died – needing constant treatment and help from Julie, dad Phil and brother Jacob for the final nine weeks of her life.
Rebecca’s family are now taking legal advice in a bid to discover exactly what happened with the tests.
Speaking days after giving Rebecca a ‘beautiful send-off’, complete with a dapple grey horse-drawn hearse through her home town of Alfreton, her family described Rebecca’s bravery in those final days.
"She just wanted to be at home but it took the three of us to look after her,” Julie, 63, said. “The nurses couldn’t believe how brave she was but it was what she wanted.
"It was typical of her. She was such a strong, courageous person through her life.
"She put everyone before herself.
"Rebecca loved cooking and baking, and eating at nice restaurants. Her paella was gorgeous. Everything she made was gorgeous.”
Rebecca’s career was also a source of great pride for both her and her family.
After starting as a physio, she later became an occupational therapist and was even working on marketing before her diagnosis.
Rebecca’s boss, hospital director Steve Booker, has described her as a ‘shining light’ at the surgery who was well-known to patients and had become a ‘driving force’ behind their fundraising events.
In May last year, Rebecca’s family say she knew something was wrong and ‘had to push’ for tests at her GP surgery, Limes Medical Centre in Alfreton.
Despite the devastating diagnosis, Rebecca showed her usual bravery through seemingly endless, gruelling rounds of treatment.
Believing her to have beaten the disease in August 2020, Rebecca was given the ‘false hope’ of ringing the bell at Derby Royal Hospital.
"They should never let them ring that bell until they are 100 per cent sure they are free of cancer,” Julie said. “She thought there was light at the end of the tunnel and it gave all of us false hope.”
A scan shortly afterwards revealed the tumour was still there.
Rebecca then faced the shock of being told smear tests had not picked up on the abnormalities in her cells.
Julie said: “It broke her and makes me livid to think how different it could have been. It all seems to have been unnecessary.
"A six-year-old girl is without her mummy because something wasn’t picked up.
"I don’t think it has hit Florence yet. She is such a good girl and has tried to take it in her stride, bless her.
"But she is lost because she has not got her mummy, and we do get outbursts of tears because she is missing her so much.”
Rebecca’s family now hopes her legacy will be that more women attend smear tests – and push for the full results.
"It was really important for Rebecca to get that message across before she died and so it’s really important for us now,” dad Phil, 61, said.
"Cervical cancer is a horrible disease to suffer and the final few weeks really brought that home to us in such a terrible way.”
Jacob, 32, said: “She was not told about the abnormal cells and there must be others in the same position. It is just not right. No brother, husband, parent, son or daughter should have to go through what we have done.”
A host of fundraising and awareness events are being planned by Rebecca’s family, friends, work colleagues and even people who met her through the illness.
Gemma Phelan, a nurse who cared for Rebecca at Derby Royal Hospital, has already taken part in a fundraising parachute jump.
Florence’s school, Westhouses Primary in Alfreton, is also fundraising for a bench to remember Rebecca.
"If it helps just one person it will be worth it,” Jacob added.
Julie encouraged women not to ‘end up like our darling daughter’.
She said: “I know smear tests are unpleasant and no-one looks forward to them, but I would ask any woman who receives a smear test appointment to attend. And if you don’t receive an appointment, chase it up.”
Derby and Derbyshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s director of acute commissioning, contracting and performance, Craig Cook, said: “Joined Up Care Derbyshire, on behalf of all those who work in health and social care, would like to send its condolences to the family and friends of Rebecca Clarke
“It would be inappropriate to discuss the specifics of her case, but we share the determination of those close to her to emphasise the importance of regular cervical screening.”
He added: “If you are a woman aged between 25 and 64, please take up your invitation to take part in the NHS cervical screening programme.”
To donate in Rebecca’s memory, visit www.jostrust.org.uk