Cambs mother’s worrying battle with breast cancer during the pandemic changed her life forever
Five months into the pandemic, aged just 41, Ellie Standen was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She initially blamed herself for not taking the best care of herself and not being good at handling the stress of a busy professional life. The frightening experience led Ellie, from Whittlesford, to reassess her life and make some positive changes, including cutting back on her working hours.
Ellie thinks cold water swimming was another positive change and it prompted her to sign up for the world’s biggest annual fundraising swim. The mother-of-one is urging others across Cambridgeshire to join her and take part in the 2022 Swimathon to raise money for Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie.
READ MORE: Family jewelers celebrate 25 years in Cambridge
Ellie, who is now 43, was diagnosed in August 2020 after finding a lump in the shower. She found battling cancer extremely difficult during a pandemic – when support services were only available online and she was isolated from her friends.
“I found it all very shocking. I relied on blogs and forums to deal with cancer,” she said. “I was really scared. The lump was quite big and I knew I was going to have to do something quickly.
Despite the pandemic, Ellie’s GP quickly referred her to a breast clinic. “I was warned that they might give me an idea if it was cancer on my first appointment and I went on my own, but they were so sure they told me I I had cancer that day,” she said.
“I was in disbelief. I didn’t think this could happen to me. I was really worried about my son, Ben, who was then only six years old and had just lost his beloved grandfather to cancer.
Not being able to get out and participate in normal activities only added to the worry of Ellie and her husband, Craig. With the support of medical staff, Ellie’s instinct for survival kicked in quickly and her best friend, who is an oncology nurse, encouraged her not to think of assumptions when she embarked on treatment for chemotherapy.
When Ellie learned she was cancer-free in March 2021, she was still tired and severely depressed and urges people to recognize that the hardest time for cancer patients may be after treatment, rather than during. She said: “Although scary, going through treatment was relatively easy for me as I was surrounded by a medical team. After the treatment, I felt adrift and really needed the support of my friends and family.
Previously a research associate, Ellie stopped working full-time at the end of last year. She is now a part-time tutor in a masters course in sustainable business. “Cancer and the pandemic made me evaluate my time,” she said.
“At first I blamed myself for having cancer. I hadn’t taken good care of myself and had worked too hard. I started swimming in cold water last December and it had a major impact on my life.
“It’s been great for my mental health and I’ve met a lovely group of people at the Jesus Green Lido and sometimes I go with them to go swimming in the Cam. Outdoor swimming has been a lifesaver. gave renewed purpose. I look forward to taking on the 5k challenge and raising funds for vital cancer research.
Ellie will swim 5k for the Swimathon at Jesus Green Lido on May 9, cheered on by Craig, Ben, family and friends.
She said, “That’s 3,000 more than ever before. I expect this to take three to three and a half hours. I am absolutely determined to complete the challenge. Nothing will stop me. Recently I swam 2km so there is still a bit of a way to go.
Ellie is also hoping to beat her £1,000 target. “Research played a key role in the development of drugs that saved my life. It is thanks to the therapies that exist and the excellent care provided by a large team at Cambridge that I am now cured of cancer,” she said.
“I fully understand why events such as Swimathon are so essential in supporting the work of charities such as Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie.” Swimathon has raised over £55million for charity since its inception in 1986.
This year the Swimathon Foundation will also be donating £2.50 from the entry fee of everyone attending an official Swimathon site to help protect these pools for the future. Not only will participation help raise funds, but moderate exercise like swimming can help build endurance, burn calories, and maintain a healthy body weight, reducing the risk of various diseases, including cancer.
Swimming regularly is also gentle on the joints, can lower stress levels, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve sleep patterns.
Michael Jarvis, Cancer Research UK spokesman for the East of England, said: “The Swimathon offers a challenge to all pool swimmers whether they are fast speedsters or leisurely swimmers.
“There are many benefits to participating, including the ability to enjoy the water while raising funds for causes that are close to the hearts of so many. One in two of us will get cancer, but we can all support the research that will beat it.
“From proving the link between smoking and cancer to laying the foundations for modern radiation therapy, our scientists have been at the forefront of cancer research for 120 years. And we’re not stopping now.
That’s why we urge people to dive in, fundraise, and help us continue to invest in science today to deliver the treatments of tomorrow. Together we will defeat cancer.
Stay up to date with the latest news from across the county by following CambridgeshireLive on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.