A young woman whose life was saved by a bone marrow transplant after she was diagnosed with cancer as a child, is supporting Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life to encourage people to take part.
Emily Ash, now 26, has dedicated much of her life to helping others since her recovery.
As well as raising awareness about the challenges of matching children with donors, Emily is a role model for parents whose children are finishing cancer treatment at the hospital where she was also treated.
Emily, from Wallington, is inspired by Race for Life because money raised helps scientists find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, saving lives as the charity fights back from the impact of the pandemic.
She said: “It’s more than 20 years since I battled cancer. I am happy. I live a normal life and I am so grateful for it”.
That wasn’t always the case. After Emily was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia just before her fifth birthday, she faced two and a half years of gruelling chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton.
The treatment was believed to be a success, but seven months later Emily suffered a relapse and her family were told her only hope was a bone marrow transplant.
Finding a donor proved difficult, as no-one in Emily’s family was a match. That prompted her mum, Alison, to set up the Emily Ash Trust to fund a world-wide search.
The Trust helped Emily to find a donor in November 2002 and within two months she had received her life-saving transplant.
The trust continues to help similar families to find donors to save lives today.
Emily said: “I was very lucky to have the opportunity to meet my donor in 2019. We stay in contact and share a bond. She is now a part of me and without her, I wouldn’t be here to tell my story”.
The gruelling treatment left Emily with some challenging side-effects, including having two titanium plates inserted into her spine.
Doctors also warned her parents it was unlikely she would be able to have children, although there has since been a flicker of hope that may be possible in future.
Emily, who emigrated to Australia with her family in 2010 but returned to the UK eight years later, still requires annual check-ups.
She said: “I refuse to let anything stop me living as normal a life as possible. If anything, having cancer has pushed me harder to keep living as if I never had it.
“The check-ups are a reminder I have had cancer – plus I have to take my medical history with me wherever I go. That is one thing I can struggle with”.
Emily accepted an invitation to host meetings with the parents of young cancer patients at the Royal Marsden Hospital as they come to the end of their treatment and she is committed to continuing.
“I just tell my cancer story and answer any questions parents may have. I am brutally honest about my experience. It’s not just the cancer that is the tough.
“I was never wrapped in cotton wool and I feel lucky and grateful my parents pushed me on when I was going through difficult times.
“But I can also shed a little light at the end of the long tunnel ahead for these families that life can and does return to normal”.
Emily, who lost her job in marketing due to the pandemic but hopes to return to that field, has also been reunited with some of the medical staff who treated her over 20 years ago.
Teams linked to the Emily Ash Trust have taken part in Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life and this year Emily is sharing her story to encourage people to enter.
Every year around 52,100 people are diagnosed with cancer in the South East* and one in two people in the UK born after 1960 will get cancer in their lifetime.**
Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, which has been in partnership with Tesco for 20 years, is an inspiring series of 3K, 5K, 10K, Pretty Muddy and Pretty Muddy Kids event which raise millions of pounds every year to help beat cancer by funding crucial research.
Money raised funds world-class research to help beat 200 types of cancer.
The charity was able to spend more than £30 million in the South East last year on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research.
Lynn Daly Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson for Surrey, said: “I hope Emily’s heart-warming story will encourage people to enter Race for Life.
“It offers the perfect opportunity for people to run, walk or jog and raise money for life-saving research.
People can visit raceforlife.org to enter *** or call 0300 123 0770.