George's Trust pledges £100K to teenage cancer unit

Jane O'Brien with her sons George and Henry, shortly before George died.

Jane O'Brien with her sons George and Henry, shortly before George died.

First published in News Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Senior Reporter

IT is every parent’s worst nightmare.

As Jane O’Brien puts it, she lost her child overnight.

George O’Brien was just 17 when he died of a rare and aggressive cancer that no one even knew he had.

But though George did not get the chance to battle the cancer that took his life his grieving mother Jane is determined to help those that can in his memory. That is why George’s Trust, the charity set up after the popular Romsey teenager’s death, will play its part in helping young cancer patients at a Southampton hospital.

The Teenage Cancer Trust has been fundraising towards a £2.4m specialised teenage cancer unit at Southampton General Hospital. The Daily Echo-backed campaign will see a state of the art ten-bed unit for young cancer patients aged 16 to 24 across the south.

George’s Trust is funding equipment for one of the four bedrooms and has pledged £100,000 – it has already handed over £45,000.

“George didn’t have the luxury of being treated,” said Jane. “No one could help him unfortunately, we wish they could have done, but there was nothing – so we wanted to help other youngsters with cancer in some way.”

Work began on the unit late last year and Jane has already seen the plans and where the room will be, which she said was emotionally “overwhelming”. But she thinks George would heartily approve of what she is doing.

“He was always kind, he’d always help anybody,” she said. “I think he’d be overwhelmed that we’d been able to help in some way.”

It was back in 2008 that tragedy struck. George, a former Romsey School pupil, went to bed at 10.30pm as normal but woke up in the night and couldn’t breathe and was rushed to hospital.

The month before he had begun A-level courses at Peter Symonds College in Winchester. He was studying law, biology, psychology and environmental studies and had hoped to become a forensic scientist.

He died in intensive care at Southampton General Hospital at 8am the next day, October 31, of an acute lymphoblastic lymphoma, a very aggressive and very rare type of cancer.

Medical staff did all they could, but unfortunately the tumour in George’s chest, which was the size of a football, was too advanced.

Apart from a chesty cold the previous week he had no other symptoms and Jane said doctors had told her it was very fast growing and George might have only had it for as little as 12 hours.

“To a certain extent I didn’t have to go through living with it for a long length of time,” said Jane. “We lost George overnight. We have had the other where it was so shocking and so sudden. That takes a lot to deal with – I live with it daily and I’ll live with it for the rest of my life. You have to keep going.”

Jane describes her son as popular, a great sportsman, who loved football and all ball sports, and a musician, who was in the Romsey Abbey choir.

“He was just unlucky, he didn’t deserve it,” she added.

“He was so kind and loving, had a sharp wit that I miss daily.”

Following his death she and the rest of the family ploughed their energies into setting up George’s Trust in June 2009. “I just really needed to do something positive because George was so active, he loved life and did everything he could to do everything he wanted to do,” said the 55-year-old.

“It [the charity] gives me comfort. It’s a positive thing I can do.”

And four years on from the tragedy George’s Trust will play its part in bringing the specialised young person’s cancer treatment unit to Southampton. Jane, who lives near the memorial park in Romsey, said she had been approached several times by youngsters being treated for cancer who thanked her for her fundraising towards the unit.

“Some of these youngsters do have the chance of a life and treatment,” she said. “They need to have that unit with the help they can get with surroundings that’s helpful to them.

“Just to have that treatment gives them hope, a lot of them know they’re going to get better.”

Alongside her full-time job as a teaching assistant at Awbridge Primary School Jane spends her time running the charity along with a host of volunteers, both friends and family, but says the support of Romsey people has been brilliant.

She said: “I didn’t want George to be forgotten, he’s too young to be forgotten and he’s not because everybody remembers through George’s Trust. It’s a constant memorial to him.”

Inevitably Jane finds herself continually worrying about her other son Henry, now 18, who is at university.

She also says she cannot help but dwell on the fragility of life when it comes to other young people.

“I just think you never know what’s round the corner for them really, you have to live life to the full.

“Life is so fragile, you just have to make the most of every day.”

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