A childhood friend of the Duchess of Cambridge
has died after a three-year battle against a brain tumour in which she suffered ‘the utmost pain, distress and loss of dignity’
Isobel Kennerley, who was a member of Kate’s Brownie pack – and went on a pack holiday with Kate and her sister Pippa – succumbed to the disease in May at the age of 34.
Now her mother Christine Eeley, who lives in Newbury, is calling for a change in the law to enable terminally-ill and mentally competent people to be able to ‘control the manner and the timing’ of their deaths.
The 65-year-old mother-of-two, who was left ‘traumatised’ by her daughter’s ‘horrific’ death, is supporting retired lecturer Noel Conway, 67, who has Motor Neurone Disease, in his High Court battle for a ‘dignified death’. A verdict is expected in the autumn.
Isobel became trapped in her body, as Noel Conway fears he will. She couldn’t move a muscle, couldn’t eat and couldn’t speak at the end.
‘She was bedridden for so long that she developed huge hideous, stinking bedsores on her back and buttocks.
‘She cried out endlessly in pain and when she was able to mumble a few words, begged her husband and me every single day to help her to die.’
Isobel, who had cerebral palsy, met Kate and her sister Pippa, in 1990, when they joined the 1st St Andrew’s pack of Brownies.
She was in Kate’s six and joined the sisters on a pack holiday in Easter 1991.
The trio slept in camp bunk beds in old RAF buildings, set in 17 acres at Macaroni Wood, in the Cotswolds, where they fed chickens, collected eggs, watched chicks hatch, bottle-fed lambs and kid goats and went for horse-and-cart rides.
‘I really enjoyed it,’ Isobel said afterwards. ‘Everyone was really kind to me because I have a disability.
‘I remember going to Brownie camp at Macaroni Wood and coming back to find an owl at the end of my bed. I don’t remember what I did to deserve it but I remember feeling really pleased.’
After Brownies, Kate and Isobel’s paths diverged as the two girls went to different schools: while Kate went to the private prep school St Andrew’s, in Pangbourne, and public school Marlborough, Isobel was a pupil at Engelfield Primary School and Newbury’s St Gabriel’s and Park House.
Kate then went up to St Andrews University while Isobel did a degree in educational practice at Oxford Brookes University and later was presented with an award for outstanding achievement by Newbury College, where she was working at the time.
She went onto become a teaching assistant at Newbury’s St Bartholomew’s School, specialising in caring for autistic children.
It was while she was at Newbury College that she met her future husband Scott Kennerley, 33, who was working at a local hotel. The couple married in 2010 and set up home within walking distance of her mother.
Yet four years later, after signing up for a distance learning masters’ degree at Canterbury University, Isobel fell ill.
‘She started to get pains in the left-hand side of her body,’ said Mrs Eeley, who also has a son Alexander, 37, a project manager for insurance company. ‘We all thought it was her cerebral palsy.
‘She was really struggling. She gradually had to be in a manual wheelchair and then in a power chair.
‘We went back to the GP time and time again but nobody got to the bottom of what was causing her pain. In the end I insisted we saw a neurologist.’
Isobel was diagnosed with the tumour at Reading’s Royal Berkshire Hospital in September 2014, after being given an MRI scan, and was referred to Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital for treatment.
It was there, after having a biopsy, that she discovered she had a Grade IV glioblastoma and there was no cure. ‘We were just devastated,’ her mother said.
‘You never imagine that your child will die before you. But Isobel was so brave. She faced it head on.’
Over the next year, Isobel had six weeks of daily chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment before undergoing another six months of chemo, which shrunk her tumour by 30 per cent.
But by August last year she was unable to walk. Even then she did not give up and was awarded this year’s Sue Ryder Southern Woman of Courage Award for her bravery.
In March she went into Reading’s Sue Ryder Hospice where she was given days to live. But she suffered for another seven weeks before dying in May at the age of 34.
‘Isobel was the bravest girl imaginable,’ said Mrs Eeley. ‘She was born with cerebral palsy and was paralysed down the left side of her body but she lived life to the full, always pushing herself beyond her physical limits.
‘She never ever complained about what life had thrown at her and, even as a child and after many operations to help her mobility, she just smiled her way through life.
‘She certainly didn’t deserve to die in the manner in which she did. I don’t think she ever imagined that she would suffer so much or that it would get worse. It was just horrific. She begged us to end her life.
‘We talk about people living with cancer but we never talk about people dying with cancer.
‘That’s why I feel so strongly that people should have the choice of how to end their lives.’
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