The grieving sister of a Paisley woman who died just weeks after being given the all-clear from cancer has paid a heartfelt tribute to her “wee best pal”.
Michelle McFadyen hailed her younger sister Charlene’s strength and bravery during her fight against stage four throat cancer, which saw the 40-year-old have to learn how to swallow, communicate and eat again.
Charlene recently had major surgery to remove her voice box and completed gruelling radiotherapy treatment following her diagnosis on October 2 last year.
It took months for her to be diagnosed after her swollen throat and severe pain was mistaken for recurring tonsillitis.
Despite ringing the bell in hospital – which patients traditionally do to mark the end of treatment – on March 3 and celebrating being cancer free, an infection took hold of Charlene and caused her organs to fail.
She died in hospital on March 26 with her partner of 13 years Kevin Marshall and Michelle by her side.
“There are no words for how we felt,” a heartbroken Michelle told the Express.
“She was more than just my little sister, she was my wee best pal.
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“We were just utterly distraught.
“No matter what she was going through in life, she always came to me. We had a really special bond.
“In the end, it didn’t matter that she couldn’t speak, I could tell what she was saying to me just by her eyes.”
Michelle said she was left in awe of her younger sister’s resilience through her fight with cancer.
Charlene had faced significant and devastating trauma in her life, having lost her own mother to cancer when she was just 15.
She also tragically gave birth to a stillborn baby boy that same year, something Michelle said she “never got over”.
Her trauma led to her living a chaotic lifestyle as she struggled with her issues.
However, following her diagnosis, Michelle said Charlene became determined to fight as best she could.
Michelle, 42, said: “I will never forget when she told me about the cancer and I said, ‘Charlene, I’m so sorry this is happening to you’.
“And she replied, ‘Michelle this is nothing, I have been through so much worse than this’.
“It broke my heart to know that all the things she had been through in her life were worse for her than being diagnosed with cancer.
“When she was in the hospital I just stroked her face and sang to her and told her it was OK to go now and that her mum, dad and baby boy were waiting for her.”
Charlene and her family were hopeful she could overcome her diagnosis after being given the devastating news last year.
It was her dentist who finally referred Charlene to hospital after she attended believing the pain in her throat was being caused by her molars.
Specialist doctors discovered two small growths in her throat that were causing severe swelling, as well as a third large one on her oesophagus.
On November 2 – exactly a month after being diagnosed – she underwent major surgery to remove the growths and her voice box, meaning she would no longer be able to speak.
The brave Seedhill woman had to learn how to breathe, swallow, eat and communicate and was left with extensive scarring across her throat.
Michelle was delighted when doctors told her Charlene was well enough to come home for Christmas, allowing them to spend it as a family for the first time in years.
She added: “We had such a lovely time together. It was so special that she was able to come home as we weren’t sure it would have been possible.
“We haven’t always spent that time together, so it meant a lot that she was well enough and we had such a laugh.”
However, in the weeks following her round of radiotherapy at the start of this year, Michelle and Kevin became increasingly concerned for Charlene’s health, which had began to deteriorate.
The treatment had left her bedbound and unable to eat, meaning she was dangerously weak and had lost a significant amount of weight.
Michelle continued: “We knew something wasn’t right. I lost my mum to cancer and seeing Charlene in that bed was like looking at my mum.
“I was going over every few days and trying to get her to eat and Kevin was getting worried about her and what she looked like.
“She couldn’t even stay on her own two feet.
“We eventually had to call an ambulance as she was struggling to breathe.
“When we got to the hospital we were told she might not make it through the night.
“We were distraught.”
After fighting as best she could for a number of days, Michelle was given the devastating news that Charlene’s organs were failing and she wasn’t going to make it.
Michelle, Kevin and her other siblings rushed to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, to be by her side.
The family, who Michelle says have been brought closer together in a “bittersweet” way, are now planning a memorial for the beloved partner, daughter and sister who doted on everyone in her life.
Charlene lived for her partner Kevin and their beloved dog Kiya, and had dreamed of becoming a chef one day.
Kiya sadly had to be put to sleep this week after being diagnosed with a malignant tumour in her leg.
Michelle added: “Charlene appreciated everything and everyone she had in her life.
“She absolutely doted on Kevin and her dog Kiya, who was like her baby.
“When she told me she had cancer she was more interested in making sure I was OK.
“That’s exactly the kind of person she was.”
A fundraiser has been set up to help support Charlene’s family pay for her funeral costs.
Generous friends, loved ones and other Buddies have already raised more than £1,200.
To donate, click here