A British teenager raised over $5.4 million dollars after his fundraising campaign went viral following his death Wednesday morning. His exhaustible efforts to help further research and encourage others to live their lives to the fullest were met with support from numerous celebrities, politicians, and countless others.
In September 2010, Stephen Sutton was diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 15. Throughout the years, he persevered through several cyclical remissions and relapses before the doctors deemed his disease incurable in November 2012.
“My cancer in a funny kind of way is kind of a blessing. My first diagnosis kind of gave me a huge kick up the back side,” Sutton said. “It gave me a hell of a lot of motivation for life.”
In January 2013, Sutton created a Facebook page called “Stephen’s Story,” which included a bucket list of the 46 things he wanted to achieve before he ran out of time. Although Sutton described his cancer as “steady and quite unique” because it provided him with sustained periods of good health, time was running out for him.
“Obviously with the incurable disease, what it means is now that I have all of this motivation but not the time left to use that. And then I look around and see other people and they’ve got loads of time but they might not have the motivation. Well, they can’t really give me their time, but what I can try and do is give them my motivation and that’s the aim.”
Aside from inspiring others to live life to the fullest, raising money to find a help research and awareness was a key foundation to the last months of his life. After being brought to the emergency room with symptoms of weight loss, stomach pains, and sickness, it took doctors six months to diagnose him with bowel cancer. He believed that if the cancer had been caught earlier, his chances of living may have been more hopeful.
“There always will be anger. If it had been caught earlier it could have led to a better prognosis. It could have changed the situation. But even saying that, I’m not one to dwell on the past. It is what it is,” Sutton said.
According to Cancer Research UK, there were 40,695 people diagnosed with bowel cancer the same year Sutton was diagnosed; it is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK.
The summer before his cancer was considered incurable, he was appointed as a member of the National Cancer Research Institute’s Teenage and Young Adult Clinical Studies Group. After graduating with straight A’s, Sutton began the interview and application process to study Medicine at Cambridge University, but before he heard back, he received the news that he was diagnosed incurable by doctors and withdrew his application.
"Since starting the bucket list, I've had people come up to me and offer to raise funds for me. To go on holiday or tick off a new item on my bucket list. But I've actually refused. And decided to give the money to charity instead."
When his bucket list was released just about a month after his fatal diagnosis, people began offering him money to accomplish his goals. His fundraising campaign began to grow in size and he set himself the challenge of raising roughly $17,000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust charity.
"Some things on my bucket list include sky diving. Crowd surfing in a rubber dinghy. Playing drums in front of a huge crowd. I ended up doing it live at Wembley. Hug an animal bigger than me," Sutton said.
The disease took a turn for the worst in the spring and spread, rendering his left leg useless. He began to rely on crutches just to get around. His condition advanced to the point when he needed a constant flow of morphine and other nerve pain medications all hours of the day. The tumors metastasized quickly, and he even coughed up a tumor.
On May 11, according to his Facebook page, he experienced breathing difficulties so severe he was sent into the hospital. The regrowth of tumors had taken over his airways and ultimately blocked his breathing. When he passed, his fundraising campaign went viral on social media and received over 100,000 public donations totally to over $5.4 million for charity.
During an interview with BBC News, Sutton said, "I don't actually do what I do for recognition. I love nice comments but I do what I do because I find the best way to help myself is to help others. "I'm proud of the feeling I get just by raising all this money," he added.
Sutton passed Wednesday morning, to which his mother, Jane Sutton, posted to his 900,000 followers on Facebook, “My heart is bursting with pride but breaking with pain for my courageous, selfless, inspirational son who passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of this morning.”