Tributes flood in for teenage cancer hero

Message of hope: Stephen’s optimism, despite his life-threatening illness, was inspiring.

Described as a ‘credit to humanity’, Stephen Sutton, the 19-year-old who raised over £3 million for charity, has died. What message should we take from his untimely death?

‘A true hero and an inspiration to us all,’ wrote the comedian Ricky Gervais on Twitter. ‘What an amazing, selfless and immensely inspirational young man,’ agreed cricketer Kevin Pietersen. ‘I can hardly think of anyone I’ve met with such a zest for life, and such a belief that you can get things done,’ commented the prime minister, David Cameron.

These moving tributes are just a sample of the outpouring of grief and admiration for Stephen Sutton, a 19-year-old from Staffordshire who died of cancer in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Stephen was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer at the age of 15. Despite this, he selflessly dedicated his remaining years to raising more than £3.5m for the Teenage Cancer Trust – the largest ever single donation in its history.

Stephen had wanted to become a doctor. But when he found out that his condition was incurable, he simply set his sights on a different goal. He created a bucket list of things he wanted to achieve before he died, among them, skydiving, crowd surfing in a rubber dinghy, playing the drums in front of 90,000 people at the UEFA Champions League final, hugging an elephant and getting a tattoo, all of which he accomplished.

But at the top of the list was an even more incredible and praiseworthy goal: to raise £10,000 for other young people with his debilitating disease.

Social media was instrumental in attracting worldwide attention and support for his cause. He documented his story on a specially created Facebook page, and a farewell ‘selfie’ he posted of himself with his cheery trademark thumbs-up gesture when he believed he was close to dying, went viral. Donations have surged once again in the wake of his death.

And despite the unfair hand Stephen had been dealt in life, he was positive and defiant until the end. ‘I don’t see the point in measuring life in terms of time any more,’ he said. ‘I’d rather measure life in terms of making a difference.’

Pride and pain

Most people agree that this is a tragic story. Cancer is responsible for more than one in four of all deaths in the UK, and we are still a long way away from a cure. But while Stephen’s fundraising was brilliant and unique, we cannot rely on rare and remarkable bursts of activism to find a cure for cancer or solve the world’s other problems.

Others see it differently. Despite the sad loss of such a young life, Stephen was able to inspire tens of thousands of people. Even in the face of insurmountable odds he showed us that humans can achieve remarkable, selfless things. And despite the cynicism sometimes associated with social media campaigns, Stephen proved that selfies and tweets can bring people together in the best way imaginable.

You Decide

  1. Do you find this story depressing or uplifting? Or both?
  2. Are there any downsides to social media activism or is it always a force for good?


  1. In groups, imagine you have just one month to achieve everything you want in your life. Write a list of what you would set out to do.
  2. Research what cancer is and what effects it can have. Then take Cancer Research’s quiz (in expert links) and test your knowledge. Why not involve your friends and family too and get them to try out the quiz?

Some People Say...

“It’s not the situation, it’s how I react to the situation that is important.’Stephen Sutton”

What do you think?

Q & A

Is it too late to get involved?
No, there are lots of ways you can help. You can still donate on Stephen’s JustGiving page, and spread his message on Twitter and Facebook. Stephen’s death doesn’t mean we should stop contributing to important causes, but instead it should inspire us to do more. And raising money for great projects like Stephen’s can take many different forms, such as charity runs and cake sales.
How common is cancer?
More than one in three people in the UK will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime, but survival rates have doubled in the last 40 years. Stephen’s story is a reminder to us all that we should and can respond positively. In his own words: ‘Make every second count, never take anything for granted, don’t be afraid to try something new. Life is for living.’

Word Watch

Bucket list
A list of things that a person wants to do before they die. Taken from the phrase ‘kick the bucket’ which means to die.
Making someone very weak or ill.
Social media
Social media activism has become very popular and effective in recent years. The ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign was instigated a few weeks ago, with the aim of urging a Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram to release hundreds of abducted young women. The ‘No Make Up Selfie’ campaign is another high-profile example, in which people posted selfies of themselves without wearing make-up in order to raise money for cancer charities.
A problem so difficult or great that it cannot be overcome.
There has been some criticism over social media activism, with some people suggesting that supporting a cause online only makes a passive, short-term connection between a person and a campaign or issue.


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