RIP Stephen Sutton – an inspirational teenager, who harnessed the very best of his generation

The 19-year-old showed the real, transformative worth of social media



If anyone wants to knock the current crop of selfie-obsessed, snap-chatting teenagers, just point them in the direction of Stephen Sutton, the 19 year-old cancer sufferer who died in the early hours of this morning, ‘peacefully in his sleep’.

"My heart is bursting with pride but breaking with pain for my courageous, selfless, inspirational son" wrote his mother, Jane, on his Facebook page. "We all know he will never be forgotten, his spirit will live on, in all that he achieved and shared with so many."

Here was a boy who faced a death sentence of terminal cancer with more equanimity, courage and humour than many four times his age, with a lifetime already lived, could ever have conjured.

Stephen was diagnosed with bowel cancer when he was just 15, and was told his disease had become terminal in December 2012. "Originally all I ever wanted to do was study hard and make a difference to the world by becoming a doctor" he wrote, "however in light of my current circumstances I have decided to be more pragmatic with my time".

He put together a ‘bucket list’ on Facebook, a ranking of the 46 things he wanted to achieve before he died. The entries were typical of most teenage boy’s wish lists - get a tattoo, crowd surf in a rubber dinghy, go on a ‘Lads’ holiday - apart from the first: ‘Raise £10,000 for The Teenage Cancer Trust’.

Except Stephen didn’t just raise £10,000. The total currently stands at well over £3m, more than three times the amount of any previous contribution to the Trust. It’s an awe-inspiring amount, from a human being that can only really be described as exceptional.

Like any teenager, Stephen shared his life with his online friends. But the stories he shared, so bravely, were about coughing up tumours and collapsed lungs, CT scans and endless surgeries. His selfies were posted from hospital beds, oxygen mask and heart monitor in place, and always with a cheery thumbs up, even when he thought he was saying 'farewell'. He shared to raise awareness, to help others feel less alone, and to ensure that one day, no other teenager will have to draw up their own bucket list because of cancer. In doing so, he harnessed the very best of his generation, and demonstrated the real, transformative worth of social media.

In an age when we are told to ‘Look Up’ in order to have a ‘true’ connection with each other, and the powers of ‘hashtag activism’ in realising change are scoffed at, we would do well to remember the power of Stephen's story, and what one extraordinary person was able to achieve.

“I don’t see the point in measuring life in terms of time anymore." Stephen said. "I’d rather measure life in terms of making a difference."

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