It started as part of a dying boy’s bucket list – 46 things he wanted to do before illness finally claimed him – but it went on to trigger a phenomenon.
Thousands of people inspired by the example of a terminally ill 19-year-old have rushed to donate to money to the Teenage Cancer Trust, bringing the total to more than £2.61 million in just a few days.
Stephen Sutton had set out to raise £10,000 for the charity, but quickly broke through that target with the help of the fundraising website JustGiving.
As a result he decided to aim for £1 million, but soon his efforts had gone viral and become an Internet sensation.
With the help of celebrities, including Simon Pegg, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Adlington, Stephen Fry and Russell Brand, the total broke the £2m barrier and is still rising.
That prompted JustGiving itself to donate £50,000 to mark the record Stephen has set. It Tweeted: “Stephen we think you’re amazing. It’s been a privilege supporting your fundraising. You’ve now broken all fundraising records on JustGiving – so here is a special donation from JustGiving.”
More than 106,000 individual donations have now been made on the teenager’s JustGiving page, the majority of them small sums such ranging from £5 to £20.
Stephen, was diagnosed four years ago with bowel cancer and despite surgery, the aggressive cancer spread to different parts of his body. After further treatment and operations, doctors concluded it was incurable.
The teenagers response was not to despair but to raise money for charity as part of a bucket-list of things to do before he died, and it has been his zest and enthusiasm for adventure which appears to have inspired so many people to make donations in his honour.
He has taken part in a charity skydive, bungee jumped, organised a fundraising football match and a flashmob, watched rugby at Twickenham, flown first class, got a tattoo, hugged an animal bigger than him, learnt to juggle, ridden a Segway and even found someone with more surgical scars than him.
Still to be accomplished is a trip to the ruins of Machu Picchu, in Peru, travel to Australia and dancing with carnival goers in Brazil.
Sadly, it looked doubtful as to whether Stephen would ever be able to complete his list.
His health took a turn for the worse on Tuesday and he thought death was fast approaching. True to character he posted a photograph of himself in his Birmingham hospital bed on Facebook, giving a thumbs up, with the message: “I’ve done well to blag things as well as I have up till now, but unfortunately I think this is just one hurdle too far.”
Two days later he updated his followers with better news. Despite one of his lungs collapsing he was still alive. Writing on Facebook on Friday, he said he thought he had been a “goner”, but was “still fighting”.
The ups and downs of Stephen’s condition have had the effect of galvanising donations still further.
Kate Collins, director of fundraising at the Teenage Cancer Trust, said: “There is always the emotion that sits around someone of Stephen’s age facing the end of his life, which is incredibly sad and happens more often that people really know. But it’s the way Stephen has communicated which is beyond compare.”
She said the money raised would take the charity to “a whole other level”, adding: “I’m absolutely confident this will move the support we can give young people with cancer and their families to a different place. It’s a remarkable legacy.”
One of the secrets of Stephen’s phenomenal fundraising success is the way he has managed to harnessed social media. Along with his Facebook page, he has a Twitter feed, YouTube channel and Tumblr and Instagram pages. Stephen has also posted a new film about his life on YouTube.
The result has been a raft of celebrities Tweeting photographs of themselves with the hashtag thumbsupforstephen and holding signs encouraging people to donate.
The campaign was originally championed by Jason Manford, the comedian, who said he had met Stephen at charity gigs and was bowled over by his positive attitude as he strove to make the best of his situation.
Cancer survivor Hannah Merridale, 29, who had the middle and lower lobe of her right lung removed after she developed a carcinoid tumour, pledged to run the Clapham 10K Race For Life on May 31, in Stephen's honour.
She said: "One of the things on his bucket list is to inspire someone to raise money for charity and I am going to do just that."
On Friday Stephen, from Burntwood, Staffordshire, wrote: “I don’t want to over dramatise things too much, but I do just want to mention that everyone’s positive thoughts and support has been hugely appreciated, so thank you for that.
"The tumours in my body are still rife and dangerous, but I feel so lucky to just still be here, and in fact I feel completely privileged to be in this position where I can help make such a difference to others people lives..”
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