But while we were in New York her husband Michael Williams was also diagnosed with lung cancer. There were phone calls and letters but as this was cancer the second time round, I had a feeling that it was unlikely that we were on course for a happy ending.

'That's why every opportunity to make something splendid was grabbed, including taking Mum to the Tony awards in New York.

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Some of these can become malignant when a person inherits two abnormal MYH genes, one from each parent.

It is possible for a person to carry only one faulty gene and this will not lead to cancer.

Pat died on May 19, 2000, five years after being diagnosed.

'About five to ten per cent of bowel and womb cancers are believed to be hereditary, meaning that they can be linked to a distinct mutation in one of the known bowel cancer genes,' explains Dr Peter Fairclough, a consultant gastroenterologist at the London Clinic.

'Doctors explained that the disease could run in the family. Our lives were so busy and vibrant - in fact, they had been since I was a child.

'Mum was 68 when she was diagnosed and until then had led such a busy and healthy life.

'It transpired that Mum had a series of polyps round the bowel, some benign and some malignant. I was the middle child, but we protected each other. 'I remember going up to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on the day of the operation where the play was running and telling Maggie and the company manager.

An understudy was prepared to take over from me, but somehow the show went on.' Initial surgery at the London Hospital was successful and there followed four years in which Pat enjoyed good health.

It was heartbreaking but we had to hope something could be done.' Samantha, who is married to actor Alexander Hanson, 48, with whom she has two children, Molly, 17, and Tom, 16, found it hard to balance her work with being around to support her mother.