In recent weeks I have written about some of the wonderful, innovative resources that are being developed to help people affected by cancer. Many have been started due to personal experiences, and finding the support gaps that currently exist. I have known of this organisation for some time, and I am delighted to be able to share the wonderful work that they do. In this piece Tom explains what led him to start the service, and how it works.
“Ellie was 28 when she started writing her own blog, writtenoff.net, having been told that that her breast cancer had spread to her bones and that she couldn’t expect to live longer than six months. Ellie’s blog gained thousands of followers and inspired her readers with her determination to defy the odds. Her descriptions of endless hospital appointments and treatments were frank, sometimes frightening, often amusing. I have lost count of all the people who have contacted me and written lovely things about Ellie and how inspiring she was, and still is. Someone even got in touch to tell me that they had contemplated suicide but had changed their mind after reading Written Off. Sadly, Ellie died of secondary breast cancer in 2012, aged 29 and under four weeks before we were due to be married. I couldn’t – and still can’t – bear the thought of such an amazing person being forgotten, so using her slogan for the blog – ‘Making the Big C smaller’ – I set up a charity in her name: The Eleanor Rose Foundation and an initiative called Ellie’s Friends, with the aim of helping other people living with cancer.
Being diagnosed with cancer is just the start of an incredibly difficult experience – there are so many pressures that are rarely mentioned: the financial impact of having to give up work, paying for trips to the hospital, healthier food; the eternal boredom and depression that sets in during recovery from chemo. But on a more positive note there is also so much good will towards the people going through it that I saw an opportunity to make their lives more enjoyable.We ask people with skills and businesses with something to offer to donate their services or products to people living with cancer via Ellie’s Friends to enable our users to have a positive experience that will take their minds off things. So far amongst other things we’ve given away tickets to comedy gigs (by Russell Brand, Sarah Millican, and Ricky Gervais amongst others), music concerts by Paloma Faith, McBusted and The Wanted, and hotel stays in London, The Cotswolds and Florence.
It’s so gratifying to receive lovely messages from our members – Ellie’s Friends – telling us that a night out was exactly what they needed, but I still feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s so much opportunity to extend these offers; think of all of the empty hotel rooms, the empty seats in theatres and cinemas, the food wastage in restaurants. If we can persuade businesses to offer these kind of things which barely have any impact on their own bottom line then we will be able to help so many more people create positive memories during an otherwise negative time. As one of our users, Lisa Allen, said about her recent trip to Have I Got News For You: “I felt like I had an evening of freedom, where my worries in life were put on hold. Living with cancer is such a burden and strain emotionally, on me as well as my loved ones; it’s easy to forget how to laugh. So a huge ‘thank you’ to Ellie’s Friends for lightening the load for a few hours.”
Ellie’s oncologist and charity patron Justin Stebbing said of Ellie “Making the big C smaller is my own life’s dream, but Ellie captured being on the receiving end of the big C better than anyone I have ever encountered with overwhelming power, energy, simplicity, humility and beauty.” After Ellie died I found a note that she had left with a mantra she had written to help her meditation and in which she stated her desire to help other cancer sufferers. While her blog was a tremendous resource to many and remains an incredible testament to her ability to engage with people it is my hope that the Ellie’s Friends website will continue to help people living with cancer by allowing them to enjoy life a little bit more.
How does Ellie’s Friends work? Users can sign up on our website and search for offers in their vicinity using our postcode search. We offer regular tickets to shows such as X-Factor, West End theatre productions, stays in hotels and holiday homes in the UK and overseas, massages, beauty products and much more. We are urging local businesses, no matter how small, to get on board and offer a freebie or a discount to adults living with cancer in their local area.”
I know from my own experience how valuable a special occasion can be after dealing with cancer, a positive focus, even if only a temporary one. Thanks for sharing your incredibly moving story with us Tom, and I am delighted that the spirit of Ellie can live on through your work helping others.
You can also follow on Twitter @elliesfriends and Facebook www.facebook.com/EleanorRoseFoundation