Skip To Content
    Posted on May 14, 2014

    How Stephen Sutton Became An Internet Hero

    The 19-year-old, who died in the early hours of this morning, managed to inspire millions with his fundraising efforts and lust for life.

    by ,

    Stephen Sutton, who died today aged 19, set out to raise £10,000 for charity but ended up raising £3.5 million. His inspiring story touched people around the world. How did it happen?

    Facebook: StephensStory

    The teenager from Burntwood, Staffordshire, won millions of fans for his relentessly positive outlook in the face of his terminal cancer diagnosis.

    After first being treated for colorectal cancer in 2010, then aged 15, which involved six months of chemotherapy, Stephen said he became "determined not to let the treatment and diagnosis get on top of me".

    Doctors advised him to take a year out of school, but he stayed on and was awarded 9 GCSEs, including 5 A*s and 4 As. In between treatments, he'd later achieve 3 A*s at A-level, not to mention an A in "self-taught" psychology.

    In summer 2011, he was told he was in remission – but in October got the news that there was a lump in his leg. Despite surgery to remove the tumour and 30 sessions of radiotherapy, it returned in 2012.

    More surgery was considered but his condition was declared terminal.

    In January 2013 he launched his Facebook page, Stephen's Story, "to share my life and outlook with the whole world". He couldn't have predicted what would happen in the next 12 months.

    All Stephen set out to do was raise £10,000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust last year.

    His first donation, for £125 including Gift Aid, was from Anthony and Lauren Murphy on 31 January 2013. At that point, the £10,000 target seemed a long way off.

    Stephen's face was occasionally seen in local newspapers last year as he ticked off the 46 things to do on his "bucket list".


    As the word spread locally, his fundraising total swelled to £120,000 by November, with more than 20,000 people following his updates on Facebook and Twitter. This was still only the beginning.

    This is around when #stephensstory started trending on Twitter.

    I'm making cancer my bitch RT #stephensstory

    People were inspired by his devotion to doing something meaningful with the time he had left – or just something he'd always wanted.

    Here's me jumping 15,000ft out of a plane, 4 days post op!!! It was so much fun! #stephensstory

    Stephen's Story@_StephensStory

    Here's me jumping 15,000ft out of a plane, 4 days post op!!! It was so much fun! #stephensstory

    09:55 PM - 4 Oct 13ReplyRetweetFavorite

    Like getting a tattoo.

    Here's a picture of my other tattoo RT #stephensstory

    Stephen's Story@_StephensStory

    Here's a picture of my other tattoo RT #stephensstory

    07:56 PM - 4 Oct 13ReplyRetweetFavorite

    And meeting an elephant.

    He won acclaim for his inspirational talks – which at this stage were mainly in his native Midlands.

    Met @_StephensStory last night. A truly inspirational young man...Please follow him and appreciate just how lucky we all are! #GlassHalfFull

    Dougie Brown@dougie1brown

    Met @_StephensStory last night. A truly inspirational young man...Please follow him and appreciate just how lucky we all are! #GlassHalfFull

    07:08 PM - 24 Nov 13ReplyRetweetFavorite

    In January he addressed 4,000 people at the O2 Arena and by February, the fundraising total had reached £560,000 – but still this only received coverage in his local paper.

    However, in early April Stephen became a star on the national stage. The Birmingham Mail ran his story on April 5, and a little over a week later, it was on MailOnline.


    This story didn't get that many views. However, the MailOnline, Daily Mail and Daily Star continued to run it, and by the end of April Stephen's story was being covered by most news outlets.

    He met Jimmy Carr – which was one of his bucket list items.

    I also once met Jimmy Carr! Genuinely the funniest bloke ever #stephensstory

    Stephen's Story@_StephensStory

    I also once met Jimmy Carr! Genuinely the funniest bloke ever #stephensstory

    10:12 PM - 4 Oct 13ReplyRetweetFavorite

    Then, the Prime Minister too.

    In total, he managed to tick off 33 out of 46 items on his list.

    1) Raise £10,000 for teenage cancer trust- NEW TARGET.. £1,000,000 - DONE!

    2) Skydive for charity- DONE

    3) Bungee jump for charity (at some place like the Macua tower, Verzasca dam, Victoria falls, etc)

    4) Organize a charity party- DONE

    5) Charity waxing and head shave

    6) Write a book - DONE

    7) Release a "tumour humour" joke book containing jokes, funny stories and anecdotes from cancer, that can help people to look at the brighter side of life

    8) Organize a charity football match- DONE

    9) Do a charity hitchhike visiting every Teenage Cancer Trust unit across the country

    10) Write, record and release a charity single with my old band

    11) Organize a charity gig - DONE

    12) Go busking!- DONE

    13) Persuade local schools to have a 'get wiggy with it' non uniform day- DONE

    14) Charity quizzes at local pubs- DONE

    15) Organize a charity ball- DONE

    16) Host a charity 'Come Dine With STE' dinner party for friends- DONE

    17) Organize and be part of a flash mob- DONE

    18) Organize a gigantic game of musical chairs/pass the parcel/etc- DONE

    19) Go to a carnival in Brazil.

    20) Go to Wembley to see a football match- DONE

    21) Go to Twickenham to see a rugby match- DONE

    22) Fly somewhere first class- DONE

    23) Get a tattoo- DONE

    24) Drum in front of a huge crowd- DONE

    25) Do some public speaking in front of a huge crowd of people- DONE

    26) Go visit a famous waterfall

    27) Throw a massive party for all my friends- DONE

    28) Go on a 'lads holiday'- DONE

    29) Go to Australia

    30) Hug an animal that is bigger than me- DONE

    31) Ride a Segway- DONE

    32) Go to a Skrillex concert

    33) Go see a darts competition- DONE

    34) Get my name into the Guinness World Book of Records somehow

    35) Go to CERN in Switzerland- DONE

    36) Meet Jimmy Carr- DONE

    37) Go to another music festival- DONE

    38) Find someone with more surgical scars than me (>47cm worth)- DONE

    39) Star as an extra in a film or music video- DONE

    40) Get Tim Minchin to write a song for me - DONE

    41) Learn to juggle

    42) Inspire someone else to become a doctor or fundraiser- DONE

    43) Have my portrait drawn- DONE

    44) Crowd surf in a rubber dingy at a gig- DONE

    45) Try breathing in xenon or sulphur dioxid eand talking (has the opposite effect of helium)

    46) Visit Machu Picchu in Peru

    Stephen posted what he called his "farewell thumbs up" picture to Facebook on 22 April, in which he thanked his friends, family and supporters.

    Then £500,000 was raised in less than 24 hours.

    Britain and beyond raised 500k since 4pm yesterday! Hahaha, YOU beauties! @_StephensStory

    Stan Collymore@StanCollymore

    Britain and beyond raised 500k since 4pm yesterday! Hahaha, YOU beauties! @_StephensStory

    11:54 AM - 23 Apr 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

    He posted on 28 April, "I thought I was a goner, but one week on I'm still here!" On 2 May was even discharged from hospital, before going back in on 11 May, as he wrote in his final Facebook post.

    My heart is bursting with pride but breaking with pain for my courageous, selfless, inspirational son who passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of this morning, Wednesday 14th May. The ongoing support and outpouring of love for Stephen will help greatly at this difficult time, in the same way as it helped Stephen throughout his journey. We all know he will never be forgotten, his spirit will live on, in all that he achieved and shared with so many.

    Tributes have poured in from across the world. Comedian Jason Manford – who called Stephen during a gig – said he was the most inspiring person he'd met.

    View this video on YouTube

    He said: "Stephen Sutton was the most inspiring person I've ever met and touched more lives than he will ever know.

    "He was an incredibly positive young man and a credit to his family, to Burntwood and to humanity itself. The reason we took to him so passionately was because he was better than us, he did something that none of us could even imagine doing.

    "In his darkest hour he selflessly dedicated his final moments to raising millions of pounds for teenagers with cancer.

    "Some of Stephen's words will stay with me and others forever and they are words to live by - 'life isn't measured in time, it's measured in achievements'.

    "If that's true, Stephen, then you had a fulfilling life full of special moments and you will live long in the memory of thousands, if not millions, of people."

    Stephen developed a deep understanding of what's important in life. We will miss him enormously but he leaves an amazing legacy and we believe that it is fitting for us to focus our attention on celebrating his life. Stephen is the most exceptional person I have ever known.v

    England captain Steven Gerrard said Stephen was an "inspiration".

    Twitter: @_StephensStory

    "I was fortunate enough to meet Stephen at Wembley when he came to an England game last year, he’s a huge fan and his enthusiasm was amazing.

    "What he has done has been incredible, raising funds that will make an enormous difference to so many people.

    "A young lad with such bravery, facing up to adversity by showing complete selflessness. He's an inspiration, and my thoughts are with his family at this sad time."

    In an interview in March, Stephen spoke about what he wanted his lasting legacy to be.

    Wall of remembrance at Stephen Sutton's former school

    Tim Gatt@TimGattITV

    Wall of remembrance at Stephen Sutton's former school

    03:43 PM - 14 May 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

    BuzzFeed Daily

    Keep up with the latest daily buzz with the BuzzFeed Daily newsletter!

    Newsletter signup form