A Shropshire lawyer, who discovered a breast tumour while on her honeymoon, is urging people across the region to take the plunge and sign up for Swimathon 2023.
Soraya Mashadi, 39, has now finished her breast cancer treatment and will swim 2.5k this May at Market Drayton swimming pool to raise money for Cancer Research UK and the end-of-life charity Marie Curie.
The NHS lawyer had been diving in to take part in Swimathon for many years after close friends and family members, including her mum and dad, had been affected by cancer.
But the challenge became even more personal after her own cancer diagnosis last year, so Soraya hopes her story will inspire people across Shropshire to make a splash too by taking part in the world’s largest annual fundraising swim for the two much-loved causes.
Soraya, who lives in Cheswardine with husband Nick and beloved dog Evie, got married during the Covid-19 lockdown in July 2021. The couple managed a low-key ‘mini moon’ in Cornwall after their wedding and it was during that time that Soraya noticed a lump in her breast.
“I’d had breast lumps before that turned out to be benign, but this one felt different – it was hard and I was a little worried about it,” she said.
After going to the GP on her return home, Soraya was referred for tests and eventually diagnosed with breast cancer. A biopsy showed that the cancer was aggressive and after surgery to remove the tumour, she discovered it had spread to her lymph nodes.
She was treated with chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy. Despite some debilitating side effects, she managed to stay positive throughout her treatment thanks to support from Nick, country walks with Evie, and swimming whenever possible.
Soraya said: “I’ve always loved swimming – I take after my dad in that respect. I just feel so at home and at peace in the water and it always leaves me feeling refreshed and happy.”
“During my Swimathons I have always concentrated my thoughts, while swimming, on the people in my life who’ve had cancer. These include both of my parents, the best man at our wedding, my grandparents, and numerous other very close friends. This time it will be a little different because I will also be thinking about my own cancer experience too.”
“The other thing that kept me sane and cheerful during my cancer treatment was going for walks with my dog. It was the thing that got me up and out in the morning, even when I felt terrible. Dogs treat you the same no matter what is going on, and that was really good for me.”
“I was a small child when my mum had breast cancer, and I remember quite clearly how ill she was. She sometimes had to pull over during the school run to take a nap in a layby, and she was always being sick. There were none of the treatments we benefit from today that make side effects more bearable. It really brought home to me how much she had to go through and that the outlook has improved for people with breast cancer – and we have research to thank for that.”
After missing out on the event for the past few years due to cancer treatment and the Covid pandemic, Soraya couldn’t wait to sign up to Swimathon again this year.
Swimathon takes place from 12 -14 May at pools and venues across Shropshire and the UK – including Market Drayton Swimming Centre.
With a variety of distances available – from 400m up to 30.9k – the sponsored event offers a challenge for swimmers young and old, new and experienced.
People can participate individually or as part of a team. Any swimmers who can’t make one of the organised sessions can still sign up to MySwimathon, which takes place from 28 April -21 May, and choose a time and venue that suits them.
Soraya, who has raised thousands taking part over the years, added: “Swimming helped me feel stronger again after the toughest period of my life. In just a few short months I went from the joy of my wedding day to spending hours in a ward getting chemotherapy. I feel incredibly lucky that I am alive and can do something as wonderful as Swimathon.”
“I’m so grateful for the treatment that saved my life and to all the medical staff who helped me recover. I know first-hand how far we have come through research and how much better treatments are today. This is why events such as Swimathon are so crucial to help fund the work of charities like Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie, which rely on our support.”
Soraya is now on the hormone therapy drug Tamoxifen to lower the chances of her cancer returning. Cancer Research UK scientists helped prove the benefits of tamoxifen after surgery for some types of breast cancer and their findings have reduced the number of women being diagnosed, pushing breast cancer survival to an all-time high.
Soraya is keen to emphasise that you don’t need to be a super swimmer to take part in Swimathon. She said: “It’s such a fun and simple way to encourage people to dip their toe in the water and get swimming. It really doesn’t matter if you’re not the fittest or the fastest. I hope swimmers of all ages and abilities grab their caps and costumes to help thousands of families across the UK.”
Swimathon has raised more than £55m for charity since it began in 1986. With rising energy costs putting some community pools at risk of closure, not only does the event support vital causes, £2.50 from the entry fee of everybody taking part at an official Swimathon venue is donated to help protect these pools for the future.
Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Shropshire, Jane Redman, said: “Whether you supercharge your swim and take on the 30.9k challenge or 5k is more in your lane, with Swimathon there’s a distance to suit everyone. There are also lots of great benefits to taking part, not least the chance to enjoy the water while supporting people like Soraya.
“One in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime*, but all of us can support the research that will beat it. From proving the link between smoking and cancer, to laying the foundations for modern radiotherapy – our scientists have been at the forefront of cancer research for 120 years. And we’re not stopping now. That’s why we’re urging swimmers to dive in, raise money and help us keep making new discoveries and breakthroughs. Together we will beat cancer.”
Marie Curie’s Director of Community Fundraising, Jayne Waterhouse, said: “Swimathon is an iconic event in the Marie Curie calendar and one we all look forward to every year. The exciting and inclusive challenge sees thousands of people take the plunge with sponsored swims up and down the country, whilst raising money to help Marie Curie support those affected by terminal illness.
“The money that Marie Curie receives through Swimathon fundraisers goes towards helping our nurses, bereavement counsellors, and support line staff to deliver vital care and support to people with a terminal illness and their families across the UK. Do something amazing for your health and well-being and for people across the UK who are dealing with terminal illness – sign up for Swimathon.”
People can sign up for Swimathon 2023 at swimathon.org