Inspirational Leeds doctor's fitness fundraisers for Anthony Nolan despite ongoing blood cancer battle

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
A Leeds doctor and mum-of-two has thrown herself into a series of incredible cycling challenges to raise money and awareness of blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan - despite her own battle with the disease leaving her future sadly far from certain.

Ellissa Baskind, 44, from Alwoodley, has just been named the charity’s ‘Individual Fundraiser of the Year’ at their 2021 Supporter Awards for completing a year-long challenge to cycle over 3,000 miles - raising a total of £20,000 in the process and recruiting hundreds more donors to the register.

That fundraiser has since turned out to be just the start of an impressive string of fitness challenges in aid of the charity - which are all the more awe-inspiring, coming at the same time as she has faced blow after blow in her fight for survival.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Ellissa, a consultant gynaecologist and specialist in reproductive medicine at St James’ Hospital, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in December 2019, after complaining of back pain.

Ellissa in training for her next challenge.Ellissa in training for her next challenge.
Ellissa in training for her next challenge.

The diagnosis meant she became a patient at the very hospital where she worked, but her prognosis initially looked good with doctors explaining 80 per cent of people respond well to chemotherapy.

Read More
Moving tributes paid to south Leeds 'hero' and founder of Hamara Healthy Living ...

It was during her first round of chemotherapy - holed up in an isolation room because she was immunosuppressed - that she was encouraged by staff to take up cycling on a static bike, and her cycling journey began.

“It was very lonely at times, on my own on this room. When I got the bike, that’s when I got pedalling and decided I would cycle every day. It became a personal mini-challenge - something to do but also keeping me fit and healthy.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Ellissa has been named 'Individual Fundraiser of the Year' at the Anthony Nolan Supporter Awards 2021.Ellissa has been named 'Individual Fundraiser of the Year' at the Anthony Nolan Supporter Awards 2021.
Ellissa has been named 'Individual Fundraiser of the Year' at the Anthony Nolan Supporter Awards 2021.

Not long after completing her second round of chemotherapy, Ellissa and her family had to deal with the sudden death of her mother-in-law from Covid, just at the very start of the pandemic.

And just days later came more devastation as they learned Ellissa’s chemo hadn’t worked.

“I was one of the 20 per cent that it didn’t respond to,” she said, which then meant a stem cell transplant was her only option.

Thankfully, her sister was found to be a match - but she lived in Jerusalem in Israel and the Covid lockdown had begun.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Ellissa cycled the distance her stem cells had travelled from her donor, in Israel, to Leeds where she received her transplant.Ellissa cycled the distance her stem cells had travelled from her donor, in Israel, to Leeds where she received her transplant.
Ellissa cycled the distance her stem cells had travelled from her donor, in Israel, to Leeds where she received her transplant.

With help from Anthony Nolan, Ellissa’s stem cells were able to travel over 3,000 to Leeds and the transplant took place in July 2020.

Despite feeling "pretty horrific", Ellissa was determined to repay Anthony Nolan - and on the very day of her transplant she launched her first fundraiser, cycling the exact distance - 3,207 miles - that her stem cells had travelled.

She said: “Every day when I was in hospital, however poorly I was feeling, I would get out of bed and put on my cycling gear and I would sit on that bike and pedal away. There were times when people would come in and watch and cheer. It was something of a challenge.”

As well as raising money, she said raising awareness of the donor register and recruiting more people to join was just as important.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Ellissa completed her stem cell cycling challenge exactly a year after her transplant operation.Ellissa completed her stem cell cycling challenge exactly a year after her transplant operation.
Ellissa completed her stem cell cycling challenge exactly a year after her transplant operation.

“A few 100 people have joined various different registers across the UK and the world from listening to my story. I’m really thrilled that they will hopefully go on to help other people,” she said.

Six months later, Ellissa, who is mum to daughters Avital, 17, and Arielle, 15, became poorly again and was diagnosed with a condition called GVHD, a reaction with the donor cells.

She was admitted once again to hospital and despite being so poorly she couldn’t eat, and was on drip, she kept up her cycling challenge, clocking up the miles towards her goal.

Having recovered well from the GVHD, and making plans to return to work in January 2021, Ellissa was then told the awful news that she had relapsed and the transplant had not worked.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

On top of that, due to the drugs she had been given to treat the GVHD, she had also developed a condition called vascular necrosis of the hips, destroying her hip bones.

Following emergency surgery, Ellissa has been left in a wheelchair as she recovers - with all hopes now pinned on finding a new donor, this time from a stranger.

Incredibly, her cycling continues - now using a floor bike - and since reaching her goal of 3,207 miles in July 2021, she has gone on to virtually climb the Hawaiian volcano Haleakala twice in the past year as well as cycling 100 miles in a day on numerous occasions since her transplant.

On the floor bike, she is currently virtually cycling to Colorado - where she used to holiday with her dad and hopes to return one day - with her Peloton cycling team, the Vixens.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She said the cycling, and her job - which now allows her to work from home - provide a welcome distraction from her health issues.

Frustratingly, despite four matches being found for another stem cell transplant, none have come forward.

“It’s a little bit heart-breaking. They are my lifeline. If they don’t come forward than I don’t know what the future holds.

"I have not lost hope that they will still get in touch. But it’s sad to think that there are people out there that could potentially save my life and they haven’t got back in touch."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Ellissa likens her fight for survival as leaping into a black hole and hoping for a parachute.

She has been told her situation is very uncommon and has been discussed on a national level, but she praised the “amazing” haematology and oncology teams for their care and treatment so far.

“I have had every complication going. You just can’t make it up. I think my team didn't really think I would still be here and I think my chances of survival - back then, certainly - were slim.

“Most people don’t do particularly well after a second transplant but what I like to say is ‘I’m not most people’. I’m very different. I’m relying on the fact that I’m really fit and healthy and that’s going to hopefully help me if I do get as far as a second transplant.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Of her cycling achievements, she said: “Doing exercise, when you are feeling really rubbish and want to just sink into your bed and pull the duvet up over your eyes - and there are moments when I have felt like that - but if you dig deep and you get up on the bike or go outside for a run, the endorphins and the adrenalin that you produce actually make you feel so much better.

“I’m in a wheelchair but I’m still cycling. I have got myself a floor bike so I can still cycle. It’s all about learning to adapt and to adjust.

“I hope I don’t have to adapt and adjust for the rest of my life. I hope that one day I will get my life back as it was.”

In the future, Ellissa hopes to initiate 'Hero Project' talks at local schools to inspire and educate teenagers and young adults about blood cancer, as well as work with the Sue Harris Trust to raise awareness of the stem cell register.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But for now she will continue to raise money and recruit as many donors as possible for Anthony Nolan, which works to find stem cell donor matches as well as carrying out research into blood cancer and blood disorders and supporting patients post-transplant.

For more information on the charity, visit and to donate to Ellissa's personal challenges visit


*Blood cancer is the fifth most common type of cancer in the UK and the third biggest cancer killer.

*About 2,300 people in the UK need a stem cell transplant from a stranger every year.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

*90 pe recent of donors donate through the PBSC (peripheral blood stem cell collection), a simple outpatient procedure similar to giving blood.

*More young men are needed to sign up, according to Anthony Nolan, as they are most likely to be chosen to donate but make up just 18 per cent of the register.

*To join the Anthony Nolan register, people must be aged 16-30 and healthy.

Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United. With a digital subscription, you'll see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.