Obituary: Lesley Elliott

Lesley Ramsay, campaigner: born Bristol 1 November 1958; married John Elliott (one son, two daughters); died Dorchester, Dorset 23 July 1994.

'I HAVE good days and bad days, but above all I have busy days. Each night I pray that I don't die tomorrow because I have too much to do.' So wrote Lesley Elliott last December at the height of her campaign to 'put breast cancer on the nation's agenda'.

A Dorset farmer's wife, and mother of three small children, Elliott had her life shattered in 1992 when, at the age of 33, she was told that her breast lump was malignant. She had breast cancer. Despite a mastectomy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, it spread to her lungs. Her response, with John's support, was to team up with the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer to raise money to establish a breast cancer research centre in London. Her horror at the incidence of breast cancer, particularly in younger women, women like her, fuelled her resolve. In January 1994 she had an article published in the British Medical Journal which called for a network of walk-in breast cancer clinics. In May one of the first of these one-stop cancer screening centres was opened by her consultant in Dorset, in Dorchester.

Elliott's determination, personality and natural gifts as a communicator were put to good use to increase awareness of the scale and devastating effects of this cruel disease. With increasing dexterity and confidence Elliott handled hardened journalists with humour and, when necessary, a quick tongue. After one gruelling session with a tabloid photographer I heard her say: 'No, I can't climb on a five-bar gate for another picture. Didn't they tell you I'm dying of cancer?'

Elliott was an inspirational young woman. She loved theatre, films and opera and bubbled with life. But her anger that she was to be denied the right to bring up her children was evident. Nevertheless she prepared Jack, Nancy and Eve for her death by being open and truthful with them. 'Being honest with the children has not been easy,' she wrote, 'one instinctively wants to protect them by lying and saying that things will get better. But this would betray their trust.' A video camera was bought and everything and anything was recorded. But her greatest investment was the books she wrote, one for each of the children. They describe her feelings for each child, with anecdotes, photographs and mementoes; when they lost their first tooth, how much they weighed, even where they were conceived.

In May she published an anthology of poetry for the sick and terminally ill - The Longest Journey. The proceeds went to her hospice and it is already being reprinted.

In her final months, through her interviews, articles and a film for Channel 4, Living with Lesley, Lesley Elliott shared her strengths, weaknesses, optimisms and fears with friends and strangers. Despite being very ill, she came up to London to be at the telephone support-line service after the broadcast. 'I wouldn't want people to think I made a film and then just walked away,' she said.

Towards the end Lesley asked John: 'When I finally pop my clogs do you think the whole of Dorset will heave a huge sigh of relief that they don't have to talk about breast cancer any more?' John replied: 'Well, I'll keep on shouting.' So will we all.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory