It all started in February 2018 when Tom's grandfather found a leaflet about Cancer Research Wales's first night hike up Pen y Fan. He gave it to Tom, who convinced his dad they should both do it (or perhaps it was the other way round). Anyway, Tom wanted to get fitter in order to become a rowing cox and Tim wanted to wear in a new pair of walking boots. So they signed up. Tom raised money by making cakes and selling them at school and at his local table tennis club. They both got lots of sponsorship and raised £700.
At the tail end of the mini-beast from the east, Tom and Tim turned up at the Storey Arms car park. Tom was apprehensive and told Tim he didn't think he could do it (he was the youngest participant by far). But off they went, and to their surprise, they were at the front of the pack for the first half of the ascent. The weather was bad - rain turned to snow as they got higher up, there was snow on the ground, they were in the clouds and it was windy. Hand in hand - Tom struggled at times - they got to the top. And then they walked quickly down, drove home via the petrol station at Asda at Dowlais Top and then a long detour up and down the valleys of south Wales to avoid the closed A465 and went to bed happy.
Then during half term at the end of May Tom became ill after dinner with a stomach ache and ended up in Nevill Hall hospital. He had gastritis. Which was odd. Over the next few days the strong antibiotics he had been prescribed seemed to be making him tired. He was aching. He wasn't eating much. He had no strength. There were a couple more overnight stays in hospital, which Tom hated. Then he kept being sick. On Monday 11 June we decided we needed to take him back to hospital as he just wasn't getting any better. He didn't want to go. However, he was sick after he got up on Tuesday 12 June so his mum took him to hospital anyway. They started doing some tests. They thought it could be appendicitis. Then hepatitis. Late that night, they told Tom's mum that he had acute myeloid leukaemia. Worse, Tom's kidneys were failing. On Wednesday, after a search across the few hospitals in the UK who could treat his condition, Tom was taken to Noah's Ark Children's Hospital at the Heath in Cardiff to start his treatment. He was desperate to drink, but because his body wasn't processing fluids properly he was only allowed a very small amount of water. We told him he had leukaemia, to which he replied he knew one of the three of him and his sisters would get cancer because one in three people get it. He asked if he would die. We told him he was going to be fine. We were given a room at the Ronald McDonald house behind the hospital (thank you). On Thursday 14 June Tom went into the operating theatre to have a line put into a vein so the chemotherapy could begin. We spoke with the oncology consultant, who talked through the treatment Tom would start. However, Tom didn't come round from the operation and the medics couldn't revive him. He died around 3.15pm.
A few days later someone found Tim and Tom's JustGiving page from the night hike and started publicising it on social media. And the donations flooded in. That page is still going and has raised over £30,000 including GiftAid and offline donations. Many people donated money, and many did their own fundraising events. Perhaps the bravest was an attempt to break the world record for rowing the length of Loch Ness by a group of 15 year old boys from Tom's school.
Cancer Research Wales kept in touch with us after Tom's death, and in October 2018, invited us to visit them. They proposed setting up a fund in Tom's memory to fund research into leukaemia, and we agreed.
Emily went and sang Christmas carols solo at the Cancer Research Wales stand in Cwmbran in December 2018.
Holly, with help from her school vice-captain and the head of sport, organised the first Swim for Tom, which took place in January 2019. Over 600 people swam nearly 40,000 lengths at what was a joyous community event. The second Swim for Tom took place in January 2020.
Cancer Research Wales ran the second night hike in March 2018, this time in memory of Tom, and over 200 people took part.
In total thousands of people have raised over £130,000. Tom's friends have busked, swam, rowed, cycled, hiked, run car parks and sold cakes, lemonade and sweets. Our friends and their friends have busked, swam, rowed, cycled, hiked, baked, burpeed, collected donations, handed out swimming hats, counted lengths, made sandwiches, sold raffle tickets, donated raffle prizes, organised events and helped at numerous events. Tom's and his sisters' schools (the Haberdashers' Monmouth Schools) have hosted and run lots of events, and provided tons of support. The first £100,000 award for research into acute myeloid leukaemia is about to be made. We're hoping it will be announced at this year's night hike.
This year we have joined forces with the Whitehead family, so Adrian, Angela, Angus and Ailsa will be walking with Debbie, Tim, Holly and Emily. Perhaps they'll even convince Nick to do it again. The Whiteheads have done several fund raising events to raise funds for Cancer Research Wales before, including being the organisers of the first pedalo race along the whole length of Loch Ness at the Monster the Loch event in September 2019.
Why not sign up and join us? Or if you can't please consider donating.