Who is Tom?
Tom was the youngest child of Richard and Nikki and a younger brother to Emma. Academically he worked hard and went to the Colchester Royal Grammar School. He was a keen sportsman favouring football and he became an excellent goalkeeper. He loved life especially if it was time spent with his family or friends. At the age of 18, having just finished his A-levels, he was preparing to go to university to study Classical Civilisation.
However he started suffering stomach pains, diarrhoea and became incredibly tired. He went to the doctors on several occasions and was told it may be Irritable Bowel Syndrome. They did blood tests and told him to return in a couple of weeks. Tom did not improve; in fact his symptoms worsened so much so that his parents took him to the Walk In Centre. Here the doctor thought he may have appendicitis and referred him to the Emergency Admissions Unit in Colchester General Hospital. After a thorough examination Tom was sent for an ultrasound which did indeed show an inflamed appendix. It did however also show something far more suspicious. This prompted an immediate CT scan – a few hours later the bombshell was dropped!
On September 4th 2012, Tom was diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma in his peritoneum and pelvis. This is an extremely rare and aggressive cancer that is mostly found in teenage boys. The family were told that it was incurable and inoperable!! Nobody could say if he had days, weeks or months left to live, nevertheless he was sent immediately to University College Hospital in London to a specialist teenage cancer unit, supported by Teenage Cancer Trust. The unit was amazing giving teenagers a chance to remain teenagers in an environment they would feel more comfortable in alongside other people of their own age.
How the fundraising started
Tom underwent an intensive course of chemotherapy where he returned to London every 14 days for stays of up to 5/6 days. After the second dose of chemotherapy his hair started to fall out and he found it on his bed and in his dinner. Tom decided he wanted to take control of this and have it shaved off before it had all fallen out. The family were dreading this as they thought it would be such a traumatic experience so after a discussion thought they could ask people to sponsor him and raise a few pounds for Teenage Cancer Trust whilst also raising awareness of the fantastic work of the charity.
Tom promoted his fundraising by setting up an online fundraising page and within minutes the money was pouring in. He quickly broke the £1,000 barrier; people told him he was “inspirational” and “so brave putting others first” that they too wanted to do sponsored events to help him raise money. It was phenomenal and Tom very quickly realised that he could make a real difference.
Sometimes it was hard to believe that Tom had cancer. He had been so ill – in January 2013 he discovered that he shouldn’t have seen Christmas!! He had however, adopted a phenomenal attitude, staying positive throughout and continually putting other people first before his own needs. Most of the messages he received talked of how he was an inspiration and of his incredible courage. His family saw this every day. He underwent very tough treatment and felt rough for most of the time. Yet his aim to raise awareness of teenage cancer and raise as much money as possible never faltered. Tom found the messages very hard to accept and was somewhat embarrassed by the admiration he earned. He never realised how many lives he changed; from the people getting fit to complete marathons, to others who learnt how to organise large events, to those who were now looking at working for charities as a career. Tom always considered himself lucky to have been treated by such an incredible team of people. This team was made up of consultants, specialist nurses, doctors, social workers, physiotherapists and psychologists to name but a few. In April 2013 he made the decision that he would like to start his own charity – this charity would support teenage cancer patients.
A glimmer of hope
In May 2013, Tom had the first glimmer of hope – his tumour had shrunk and had become under control. He was told of a surgeon in Milan, Italy who would be happy to discuss a possible operation to remove as much of the disease as possible. This was unbelievable and although in pain Tom flew with his family to Italy. They were all so impressed with the surgeon and relieved that there may be hope. It was all systems go and the operation was booked for the first week in July. Apartments and flights were booked, paperwork completed; there was an air of excitement mixed with absolute fear about what might happen. It was necessary for Tom to be free from chemo for four weeks before the operation and it was during this time that the worst happened. The tumour took hold again and spread rapidly up into the peritoneal lining again. It had awoken even more aggressive than before and the operation was immediately cancelled. It would be far too dangerous to operate whilst the tumour was this active!! Both Tom’s heart and that of his family fell once again. The hope was pulled from them. Tom being Tom took the news and asked what the next drug was that he could try. He would never ever give up.
The last few weeks
Over the next few weeks Tom tried new drugs. He was in and out of hospital in London and really not feeling well. His stomach pains were worsening and he looked tired and very pale. He continued to keep his spirits high when with his friends and family, but when alone he worried about what the future had in store. On September 4th 2013, exactly a year since his original diagnosis, he was told the devastating news that the tumours had spread to his liver!! His parents felt they were beginning to lose control. Yet still Tom, whilst shocked, enquired about the next step.
Tom became quite poorly in late September and was quite sick, something that he hadn’t suffered from before. He was admitted to UCLH for a few days and given fluids before being discharged. He was determined that he had to get home before his sister, Emma’s birthday as he had missed it last year. He returned home and the palliative care teams were involved to try to regulate the ever increasing pain and discomfort. Tom was struggling to keep his necessary medication down and this was not helping. He was not home for many days though. Tom spiked a temperature and became seriously ill. His parents were told to get him to London as fast as possible. It was as if they all knew what was happening as they all broke down and for the first time ever really panicked as they packed bags as fast as they could.
On arrival Tom’s team were all there and took immediate control. Tom’s tumour had grown so big it was blocking his bowel. There was nothing that could be done now! Tom continued his fight for two more weeks. He knew what was happening and decided to stay in hospital – he always said that whilst he was there, there would always be hope. On Friday 18th October 2013, Tom fell asleep, at last free from pain. Shortly before his last breath he told his mum she would need to ‘crack on’ without him. So that is exactly what Richard and Nikki have done by setting up The Tom Bowdidge Foundation. They knew exactly what Tom’s wishes were and have followed them in the best way possible.
Tom knew that when you were diagnosed with cancer the support needed went far beyond the chemotherapy. Firstly a teenager needs practical support; a comfortable place to be treated with patients the same age in an environment that was as normal as possible. Secondly they and their family need emotional and financial support; help to fund accommodation whilst staying in hospitals away from home or pay travel costs; funding short holidays for those receiving palliative care. Thirdly, more research is desperately needed. Teenage cancers are extremely rare and need specialist research. Tom had a very rare and aggressive sarcoma – 11% of teenage cancers are sarcomas! Tom wanted to fund further research so that one day there would be a cure for this wicked and evil disease and no other young person would have to go through what Tom went through.