A PAISLEY cancer survivor is inspiring people to Race for Life at Home and carry on the fight against the disease as the nation looks beyond lockdown.
Laura Elliot, who recently completed treatment for thyroid cancer, is urging people to run, walk or jog 5K for Cancer Research UK.
The Project Co-ordinator will be cheering on thousands of people from across the UK who have vowed to Race for Life at Home this April either alone or in small, socially distanced groups to raise money for life-saving research.
People can visit raceforlife.org to sign up to Race for Life at Home for £5* then receive a Race pack which includes a medal. Money raised will help scientists find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, helping to save more lives.
Cancer Research UK is predicting a staggering £300 million drop in income caused by COVID-19 over the next three years which could put future medical breakthroughs at risk.
All 400 mass-participation Race for Life events across the UK were cancelled last year to protect the country’s health during the pandemic. And as the country emerges from lockdown the charity’s much-loved Race for Life events which were scheduled for this spring and early summer have also now been postponed.
But Laura, who has just celebrated her 33rd birthday with her twin sister Chell, knows exactly how vital it is to keep raising funds for life-saving research.
She said: “My reaction to finding out I had cancer was to keep it to myself as much as possible. I didn’t want to burden anyone. But having had major surgery and coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis was hard. I shared more with my mum, who never missed an appointment with me, than anyone else but I kept so many of my feelings to myself.
“In the end it got too much and it was a relief to get some help from the Rays of Hope cancer support group in Elderslie. It was such a relief to talk openly about how I was feeling. Everyone there had experienced a different type of cancer and talking with them helped me come to terms with what had happened.
“I’m certain that the treatment I received saved my life. That’s why I decided to support Cancer Research UK by taking on the charity’s Walk All Over Cancer challenge to walk 10,000 steps every day in March.
“I wanted to do what I could to give something back for the treatment that’s got me through this. I also want to help to make treatments better and kinder, ultimately to find a cure for this awful illness.
“I’d really urge others to support the charity too. Race For Life at Home is a fantastic chance to do something positive this month and raise money to help more people survive.”
Laura first suspected something was amiss with her health when she found she was losing her voice and she noticed her neck was getting bigger. She was gaining weight for no obvious reason and she began to feel tired all the time.
“I was on every diet imaginable but still putting on weight,” recalls Laura, who was aged 31 at the time. “I then started coughing and I didn’t smoke. I worried the cough was to do with my asthma. I had a sore throat and swollen glands.
“I decided to get it checked out and went to the GP three times altogether. On early visits, the doctor did blood tests which came back normal and I was prescribed an antibacterial throat spray and a steriod inhaler to help with my asthma. In the meantime, my neck was getting bigger and bigger.”
Laura eventually went for tests at the ENT department of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow. These revealed that Laura’s thyroid was to blame for her symptoms and would need to be removed.
“The thing I worried about most was that after the operation there was a risk I’d need a temporary tracheotomy – a tube in my neck so I could breathe,” Laura said. “The idea made me panic and I wanted to tell the doctors just to leave it. I was scared and nervous because I hadn’t ever had surgery before. But ultimately, I felt glad something was happening to make me better at last. I felt confident in the surgeon, that he was a specialist and that this was the right thing to do.”
Laura was in hospital for three days after the five-hour operation to remove her thyroid.
“The first thing I checked when I woke up was to see if there was a tube in my neck,” she said. “I was so relieved to find out that this hadn’t been needed. But I was shocked by the size of the scar.”
Tests on Laura’s thyroid revealed that various sized cancerous tumours had been growing there and was wrapped around her vocal cords and had spread to the lymph nodes.
She was told the news at a check-up with a consultant in September 2019.
Laura said: “I couldn’t believe it when the consultant told me I had papillary thyroid cancer. I went white and started shaking. I knew what he was saying but couldn’t take it in.”
In October 2019, Laura started radioactive iodine treatment at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre to destroy any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of the cancer returning.
This meant Laura was given an iodine pill and then had to stay in complete isolation in hospital for two days while the radioactive treatment took effect. Even on her return to her home in Paisley, which she shares with her parents, she had to steer clear of everyone in the house for a few days and ensure that she cleaned the bathroom and kitchen after she’d used it. Even her beloved cats Tango and Lennon, who normally sleep in her bedroom, weren’t allowed near.
And while she is recovering well, Laura says her experience has had a significant impact on her mental health.
She said: “I’ve always been a confident person but what I’ve been through has dented that. There has been lasting damage to my voice. I still have trouble speaking and I now speak at a higher pitch, so much so I worry I sound like a little girl. I can’t have a full conversation without my voice going away and I feel it’s such a strain to talk.
“Removing the thyroid has also led to imbalances in my hormones. I’m up and down with them and I find I can be really tearful now.
“Being busy at work has helped to keep my mind off things, as has keeping things going with family life. I love to look after my nine-year-old nephew Caiden and taking on regular exercise has given me a boost. My mum, dad and sister have been there every step of the way and I want to thank them very much.
“I’m just so glad I kept going back to the doctor when things weren’t right. I’m lucky the cancer was caught early and was treatable.”
Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, in partnership with Tesco, is an inspiring series of 3K, 5K, 10K, Pretty Muddy and Pretty Muddy Kids events which raise millions of pounds every year to help beat cancer by funding crucial research.
A live broadcast on the Cancer Research UK Race for Life Facebook and Race for Life Instagram pages on Saturday April 24th will include an energiser from a fitness expert as well as inspirational messages of support from people who have been through cancer. Participants are then invited to run, walk or jog 5K. Organisers are also inviting participants to share photos and videos on social media using the hashtag #RaceatHome
Every year around 32,400 people are diagnosed with cancer in Scotland** and one in two people in the UK born after 1960 will get cancer in their lifetime.*** But the good news is more people are surviving the disease now than ever before. Cancer survival in the UK has doubled since the early 1970s and Cancer Research UK’s work has been at the heart of that progress.
Linda Summerhayes, Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson in Scotland, said: “The truth is, COVID-19 has slowed us down.
“But we will never stop and we are absolutely determined to continue to create better cancer treatments for tomorrow. Even though we have to Race for Life differently this spring, nothing is going to stop us running, walking or jogging 5K to raise money to help beat cancer.
“That’s why we need as many people as possible across Scotland to sign up to Race for Life at Home this April, to stand united and do something extraordinary to help beat cancer.
“We’re constantly monitoring the COVID-19 situation and are working hard to move our mass participation Race for Life events to the autumn and to make sure they can go ahead safely and with all necessary COVID-19 guidelines in place.****
“We’d love to invite as many people as possible to Race for Life at Home this spring, then physically come together in the autumn to join us for Race for Life Glasgow.”
A new date this autumn has not yet been confirmed for Race for Life Glasgow and an announcement will be made as soon as possible.
Sign up to Race for Life at Home this April and visit raceforlife.org or call 0300 123 0770. Join in and share with #RaceatHome