A Cambridge woman who lost her younger sister to leukaemia is urging the next Government to save more lives from cancer

Ellie, left with older sister Emma
Ellie Bray, from Papworth Everard, was just 16 years old when she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. She died two years later with her family at her side. 

Now, her older sister Emma, 27, wants to share her story to highlight the need to tackle cancer waiting times, unequal access to diagnosis and treatment and an estimated £1bn funding gap for life-saving research.

Emma’s family were left devastated and shocked when Ellie an 'incredibly fit, young and healthy women’ was diagnosed with cancer.

“Ellie was the healthy one in the family and never got ill.” said Emma. “She was due to take her GCSEs and it was around this time, when she began to feel unwell with a sore throat and ear infection.

“We were backwards and forwards to the doctors and Ellie had numerous blood tests before one night we received a call from Addenbrooke's Hospital asking her to go straight to A&E. It was scary and we asked ourselves ‘why so quickly?’

Ellie was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, an aggressive blood cancer which requires immediate treatment. She started intensive chemotherapy straight away and the day before her 17th birthday she was told she was in remission.

Emma, who works for a charity, added: “Ellie threw herself into life, she got a puppy, went back to work, went out with friends again, went on holidays and climbed Mount Snowdon.

“We were scared she would relapse the whole time and we always knew there was a 50 per cent chance it could come back, but we hoped she’d be in the other 50 per cent group.”

Sadly, Ellie’s cancer did return, and her health deteriorated rapidly. “We were running out of options, but we stayed positive,” said Emma “but the doctors told us ‘to prepare for the worst’.

“Her final days were spent mostly at home, she had friends visiting and we went to the beach, which was her favourite thing to do. But it was on the ward where she had been for two years that she ended up. We stayed with her, we watched Love Island, and we ate meals together but one morning she was breathless and said she didn’t want to do this anymore. We said ‘you don’t have to’. And within a second, she had gone. She had fought this disease for two years and finally had enough.”

In an emotional film – including a small contribution from Dame Deborah James – celebrating Ellie’s life through home video, Emma said she is grateful for the precious time she had with her sister.

She added: “Thanks to the incredible work of organisations like Cancer Research UK, we had almost two extra years with Ellie. Thanks to the development of new chemotherapies, supportive care, blood transfusions and her stem cell transplant donor, we wouldn’t have been blessed with her for as long as we were.

“Ellie never lost her witty sense of humour and sarcasm and was making jokes until the very end. She didn’t want to let go and wanted life so much. All she ever dreamed of was getting married, being a Mum – and it breaks our heart that she won’t get to do those things.”

Now Emma is urging people across the East of England to call on their local parliamentary candidates to commit to transforming cancer survival by emailing them now at cruk.org/localcandidates.

Emma’s call comes as new analysis from the charity reveals around 210,000 people in the East of England are projected to be diagnosed with cancer in the next five years. As polling day approaches, Emma is backing Cancer Research UK’s Turning Point for Cancer campaign.  

She added: “So many people’s lives are touched by this devastating disease and the numbers are only growing. That is why we must make sure cancer is at the forefront of the minds of all future MPs. I’m determined to do everything I can to campaign to help spare others from unnecessary heartache.”

Cancer Research UK analysis shows if current trends in cancer death rates continue, without action, the UK is at risk of collectively losing a staggering 13 million years of life to cancer in the first parliamentary term alone.

Emma added: “It’s distressing to think how many friends, family and colleagues could be affected by the fall-out if we don’t speed up progress in the fight against cancer.

“With so many challenges and funding issues surrounding cancer research and care, it’s vital that saving lives comes before politics. When you hear those terrible words, “It’s cancer,” all you want to know is you – or your loved one – have the best possible chance of surviving. Whoever wins the general election, the next UK Government must help make this a reality for cancer patients everywhere.

Emma is in good company with her campaigning efforts. Familiar faces from stage and screen, including actors Stephen Graham and Daisy Edgar Jones, comedian John Bishop and TV presenter Alison Hammond have already lent their support.

Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson for the East of England, Patrick Keely, said:  

“Nearly 1 in 2 people will get cancer in their lifetime. It affects every family, in every constituency. So, as political parties reach out to the country, there’s never been a better opportunity to come together and demand the action people affected by the disease so desperately need and deserve. This general election must be a turning point for cancer.   

“We’re grateful to Emma for joining the groundswell of supporters, scientists and stars who are backing our campaign and hope her story will inspire people across the East of England to have their say by emailing their local candidates.

“The entire cancer community is calling for the next UK Government to introduce a bold and long-term plan to prevent future cancers and improve survival.

"Urgent action to tackle the disease will mean more life-saving research, more people diagnosed and treated earlier, and ultimately, more people in the East of England living longer, better lives.”  

Back the Turning Point for Cancer campaign now at cruk.org/localcandidates  

Find out more about Cancer Research UK's Longer, better lives: A manifesto for cancer research and care

28 Jun 2024