“I don’t want to contemplate what would have happened if I’d gone home when I saw my GP and not been referred.”
Those are the frank words of Chorley-born Ellie Finnigan who discovered a lump in her breast aged just 28.
Despite having no family history of breast cancer Ellie was very aware of needing to check herself regularly due to her mum Christine’s work as a medical secretary for a breast cancer surgeon.
Initially Ellie, who grew up in Whitworth Drive, Chorley, was told to go home and come back a few weeks later if the lump was still there.
Instead she insisted on a referral to hospital and after a biopsy and physical examination was diagnosed with cancer.
“From speaking to my mum and hearing about her work I knew that it was important to be vigilant and to have things checked,” says Ellie, now 30.
“I understand that it isn’t common for someone of my age to have breast cancer, however, I felt like I almost had to fight to be heard. As I got seen quickly my cancer, although it had spread to the lymph nodes, was grade one and the cells on the outside of my lump were still pre-cancerous.”
Now Ellie, who was treated at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital, is calling on women in the region to sign up for the Cancer Research UK Race for Life event in Preston which takes place at Moor Park on Sunday May 24 at 11am, and help raise money for better treatments.
Ellie, a conveyancing solicitor, says: “A couple of my friends did the Race for Life last year and I’d encourage everyone in Preston to sign up and give it a go. Cancer affects everyone – young women can get cancer, not just mums, aunties and grans.
“The Race for Life is a way for people to show support for the fight against cancer and to remember either loved ones who may have passed away, friends or family going through treatment or to stand up and say ‘take that’ to cancer if you have gone through treatment yourself.”
After her diagnosis, Ellie had an operation to remove the cancer in December 2012 followed by six cycles of chemotherapy as well as being treated with radiotherapy, herceptin and tamoxifen.
In November last year she had her ovaries removed. The treatment means she will not be able to have children.
“It was horrendous going through the treatment but I do count myself as lucky,” says Ellie, who recently moved to Liverpool with husband Simon.
“My lump was small enough to be removed prior to chemo and I was able to have simultaneous reconstruction.
“Having hair falling out was really upsetting and I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. But I gradually embraced headscarves, hats and in the end just went ‘commando’ and showed my baldness to the world! I couldn’t have got through the last two years without the support of my husband, my family and my friends.”
And it was through her breast cancer diagnosis that Ellie found her new love of dragon boating. She initially joined a group of paddlers called the Pool of Life who were all breast cancer survivors to aid her rehabilitation.
But now two years on Ellie is preparing to take on a marathon paddling competition across Lake Garda in Italy later this year.
She says: “If it wasn’t for cancer I would have never tried dragon boating. Since my diagnosis I’ve put on weight, now have short hair and scars but I think that I’m now the Ellie I should be.
“I feel some problems just don’t matter anymore.
“Cancer does not always mean your life is going to end. To me it’s actually led me to try something I wouldn’t have thought of doing before.”
Cancer Research UK Lancashire spokeswoman Alison Barbuti adds: “More people in the North West, like Ellie, are surviving cancer than ever before. Our aim is that one day everyone will beat cancer. The more research we can fund, the sooner that day will come.
“The Moor Park 5k and 10k Race for Life events will set off at 11am from Moor Park in Preston on Sunday May 24.
“We are hoping to smash last year’s total and raise £94,000 in Preston this year. It’s the first time a 10k Race for Life has been held in Preston so we are hoping some ladies will be ready to take on a new challenge and double their distance. Overall we hope to get 1,950 women and girls taking part in the events.
“Race for Life events are not competitive. They are not about being fit or fast. Instead, they are an amazing way to celebrate life but also remember those who have been lost to the disease.”
Cancer Research UK receives no Government funding for its ground-breaking work but the charity intends to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.
l To enter Race for Life’s 5k or 10k Race for Life event at Moor Park Preston on Sunday 24 May, please visit www.raceforlife.org or call 0845 600 6050.
If you are taking part and want to share the reason why, contact Evening Post reporter Laura Wild by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01772 838167.