Cancer survivor to take the plunge in memory of sister - The Rugby Observer

Cancer survivor to take the plunge in memory of sister

Rugby Editorial 21st Feb, 2020   0

A CANCER survivor who was diagnosed just months after losing her sister to the disease is urging people to take the plunge in the world’s largest annual swimming fundraiser.

Sheelagh Connelly from Gilmorton near Lutterworth is taking part in Swimathon 2020 next month to raise money for Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie.

The marketing manager was diagnosed with cervical cancer aged 39 – just four months after her sister Alison died of breast cancer aged 43.

She says the guilt she experienced for surviving when her sister died led to her make huge changes in her life.

Sheelagh, now 55, said: “Alison was a county champion swimmer and I have lots of happy memories of family trips to the pool, so I’ll be swimming at Lutterworth Sports Centre in her memory.

“I’ve done Swimathon before, but this year I want to encourage more people to take part to support these amazing charities.”

Sheelagh also wants to highlight the need for more women to attend cervical smear tests because she says she ignored key symptoms for months.

“I’d been spotting for about eight months, but I ignored it,” said Sheelagh. “My sister died in September 2002, so I made it my New Year’s resolution to get a smear test.

“I remember sitting in a coffee shop after getting my results when Alison’s favourite song came on. I had a cry but after that I just switched off my emotions and did what had to be done.”

Sheelagh had to undergo a hysterectomy, but no further treatment was needed.

“I’ve waited longer for a hairdresser’s appointment than I did for all this to happen,” she added. “I had the test in January and, by the February, I was having surgery.

“It was difficult to get my head around it all because I never really felt ill before the operation. I went off the rails a bit, smoking, partying and spending money – I thought I was trying to make the most of life but, looking back, it was survivor guilt.

“Alison died even though she was fit and looked after herself well. Yet here I was throwing my life away. Eventually I thought – ‘how dare you disrespect your life, at least give yourself a fighting chance!’”

Sheelagh joined the gym and eventually got fit enough to take part in triathlons and obstacle course running events.

“I needed structure and a reason to get up in the morning so I became goal orientated,” said Sheelagh. “I started with small goals like losing 5lb and I lost three stone in two years. I’ve taken part in Swimathon three times now because it’s a great way for me to focus on my fitness while raising funds in Alison’s memory.”

Sheelagh added: “It really doesn’t matter if you’re not the fittest or the fastest. I hope swimmers young and old, new and experienced will dive in and help thousands of families affected by cancer.”

Swimathon has raised more than £52m for charities since it began in 1986. Organisers hope this Olympic year’s event will be a record breaker by raising more than £2.2m.

Paula Young, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Leicestershire, said: “We’d like to thank Sheelagh for supporting Swimathon and for sharing her heartfelt reasons for raising funds. We hope everyone will grab their caps and costumes and sign up now.”

Mark Winton, head of community fundraising at Marie Curie, said: “Swimathon has raised millions which has enabled us to provide care and support to more people living with a terminal illness and their families, helping them make the most of the time they have together.”

People can take part individually or as part of a team, at distances ranging from 400m to Triple 5k.

The Swimathon weekend takes place on March 27-29 at pools across the UK.

Visit for more information or to sign up.

Business Directory

From plumbers, to restaurants, we can provide you with all the info you need.


Find a career you'll love with our free career finder website.


We can provide all of your printing needs at competitive rates.


Receive a weekly update to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter.