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Woman whose 18-year-old sister died from leukaemia urges next government to follow Cancer Research UK’s blueprint for fighting cancer





A woman whose 18-year-old younger sister died from leukaemia has urged the next government to do more to save the lives of people with cancer.

Ellie Bray, from Papworth Everard, was just 16 years old when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia and died two years later with her family at her side.

Sisters Ellie and Emma Bray
Sisters Ellie and Emma Bray

Her sister Emma, 27, shares 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.

The family were devastated when Ellie - an “Incredibly fit, young and healthy woman” - was diagnosed.

“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 Bray, from Papworth Everard, was just 16 years old when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia
Ellie Bray, from Papworth Everard, was just 16 years old when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia

Ellie was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia, which is an aggressive blood cancer requiring immediate treatment.

She started intensive chemotherapy straight away and the day before her 17th birthday was told she was in remission.

Emma, a charity worker, said: “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.”

But sadly, Ellie’s cancer returned and her health deteriorated rapidly.

Sisters Ellie and Emma Bray
Sisters Ellie and Emma Bray

“We were running out of options, but we stayed positive,” said Emma. “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, which includes a small contribution from Dame Deborah James, Ellie’s life is celebrated through home video.

In it, Emma said she is grateful for the precious time she had with her sister.

“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,” said Emma.

“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.”

Emma has urged people to call on their Parliamentary candidates to commit to transforming cancer survival by emailing them at cruk.org/localcandidates.

Sisters Ellie and Emma Bray
Sisters Ellie and Emma Bray

Cancer Research UK projects that 210,000 people in the East of England will be diagnosed with cancer in the next five years.

With the General Election upon us, Emma is backing Cancer Research UK’s Turning Point for Cancer campaign calling for more action.

She said: “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.”

If current trends in cancer death rates continue, the UK will los 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.

Emma is backing the Cancer Research UK campaign after her sister Ellie Bray died from acute myeloid leukaemia
Emma is backing the Cancer Research UK campaign after her sister Ellie Bray died from acute myeloid leukaemia

“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.

Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson for the East of England, Patrick Keely, said: “Nearly one in two 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.”

You can back the Turning Point for Cancer campaign now at cruk.org/localcandidates.

Sisters Ellie and Emma Bray
Sisters Ellie and Emma Bray

Cancer Research UK’s blueprint for action

Cancer Research UK’s blueprint for long-term change is outlined in Longer, better lives: a manifesto for cancer research and care.

If adopted, the charity says the measures could help reduce cancer death rates by 15 per cent by 2040, preventing 10,000 deaths in the East of England.

The charity is calling on the next UK government to:

Back research: Set out a plan to close the more than £1bn funding gap for research into cancer over the next decade.

End cancers caused by smoking: This includes bringing back legislation to raise the age of sale of tobacco in the first King’s Speech after the general election and funding a world-leading programme of measures to help people who smoke to quit. Smoking is the biggest cause of cancer and is responsible for around 5,500 cases in the region every year.

Drive earlier diagnoses: Implement proven measures, including a lung screening programme, to diagnose cancers early and reduce inequalities in access.

End the waits: Ensure cancer wait time targets are met across England.

Lead on cancer: Publish a long-term cancer strategy for England and establish a National Cancer Council, accountable to the Prime Minister, to drive cross-government action on cancer.



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