AS Tom Bowdidge lay dying, he held his mother’s hand and told her how to cope with his death.

Tom, 19, had fought an aggressive cancer and despite his illness raised £170,000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust in a matter of months.

Throughout his illness, Tom remained positive and empowered, but his parents, Nikki and Richard, knew the end was close.

Nikki said: “It was just us and I said to him: ‘Tom, what am I going to do without you?’ “He grabbed my hand and said: ‘You will crack on, mum’.

“He had never used that phrase before.”

From that moment, his parents determined they would fulfil his wish and his legacy.



Tomwas 18 when he was diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma in his stomach and pelvis.

The cancer was so rare, only 200 people in the world have had it.

Before then, the Colchester Royal Grammar School student had had the world at his feet. He was clever, handsome and sporty, with a gentle sense of humour.

His parents’ faces light up as they speak of him, finishing each other’s sentences as they share the joy of remembering him.

Nikki said: “He worked hard, nothing fazed him. If there was ever an issue, he would deal with it.

“Something which came out during his illness and afterwards was how well liked he was, howmany friends he had and how they adored him. Tomwould light up a room. Now that is missing.”

Richard said: “He also had a phenomenal memory for films and a good sense of humour. It was subtle, he would come up with great one-liners.”

Tom had been suffering stomach pains and exhaustion and went to the emergency assessment unit at Colchester General Hospital.

A biopsy found he had aggressive and inoperable cancer.

He was transferred to University College Hospital, in London. Nikki and Richard were told their son might have days, weeks or months to live.

Richard broke down while Nikki was completely motionless, overwhelmed by shock.





Tom shut down. He stayed in bed and closed the curtains. He called his friends one by one and told them he had cancer.

But then he pulled the family together. He told them: “I know you are upset. We will do this.”

Richard said: “Suddenly this young man was so grown up and was helping us. He was so sensible, so forward-thinking.

“He just cared for everyone else, rather than himself. He was worried about how his mumwas going to cope. He was worried about the other patients in the ward.”

From September 2012, Tom endured months of chemotherapy at UCH, returning home when he could. As his hair began to fall out, he decided to ask for sponsorship to shave his head. Within 24 hours, £1,000 had been donated.

This was just the start. Tom told his parents he wanted to organise an auction.

Richard arranged it to be held in London and it raised £20,000.

Colchester United stalwart John Schultz offered the club’s stadium as a venue for a dinner and a further £23,000 was raised.

Tom spoke before an audience of 6,000 people at the Royal Albert Hall and thousands more pounds were donated, including £25,000 from singer Mark Knopfler.

Through it all, Tom continued to battle cancer and was sure he would beat it. The chemotherapy was arduous, but the tumour shrunk.

A surgeon in Milan said he thought he could operate, but Tom needed to be clear of chemotherapy for four weeks.

But when the treatment stopped, the cancer came back with a vengeance, spreading to his liver.

Nikki said: “We were told the end was coming, but he still fought it.

He was cross. He said: ‘I have so much I need to do, so much money I need to make for charities’.

“Finally he said: ‘I have fought as hard as I can. It has to be what God wants for me. Make sure no-one ever says I lost my life to cancer.

Cancer has lost because I killed it.

It has nowhere else to live. Cancer will be cold in the ground.’”

Tom died in October 2013, but his family carried on his work. They set up the TomBowdidge Foundation and have raised £85,000 to help other teens fighting cancer.

Nikki, 48, and Richard, 47, who live in West Bergholt, are also supporting the Cancer Centre Campaign, which is supported by the Standard. They will raise money to ensure the centre includes an area for teenage cancer patients.

Nikki said: “If Tom had an infection when he was at home, he had to go into the Jefferson or Rhys Lewis ward in Colchester.

“The staff were amazing, but he hated it. He would do anything not to go in. It was full of elderly people, many of whom were dying.

“It did not cater at all for teenagers who are not children but not yet adults. Richard used to sleep on a chair to be with him.”

Funds raised by the foundation will be used to create a room for teenage care in the cancer centre.

Nikki said: “It needs to be an environment where teenagers can feel comfortable if they are staying for a few nights – with computer games, WiFi, laptops and space so a parent can be with them.”

There is nothing Nikki or Richard can do to bring their son back, but they are determined to continue his inspirational work and do what they can to help other teenage cancer sufferers.

It is what Tom wanted.


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