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Inspirational People: Stephen Sutton

His life and achievements

by Philippa Rae

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To celebrate the life and achievements of Stephen Sutton.

Preparation and materials

  • Gather some images of Stephen Sutton and have the means to display them during the assembly (check copyright). See his famous thumbs up photo and others at:

  • To find out more about cancer in young adults, so you can answer questions, visit the Teenage Cancer Trust (at:

  • Have available the song 'I believe I can fly' by R. Kelly or 'Hero' by Mariah Carey and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.


  1. If you were told that you had a serious illness, how do you think you might react to or deal with it?

    It’s difficult to think how we might feel. Most of us hope that we never have to face something like that, either in our own lives or those of the ones we love.

  2. Such a diagnosis was given to one young man, however - someone on the threshold of his adult life. Stephen Sutton was 15 when he was told that he had cancer. He shared his journey by setting up a blog that he hoped might help others. You may recall a photo he posted that he thought might be his last, of him giving a thumbs up, as it went viral in 2014.

    Display images of Stephen Sutton.

    When he lost his battle with the disease on 14 May 2014, he left behind a legacy of memories and had done so much to raise awareness of teenagers with cancer.

  3. It was Stephen’s bravery in dealing with some of the hardest news that anyone ever has to face, together with his sincerity, honesty and selfless determination, that made him such a remarkable character. Not only did he dedicate much of the time he had left to helping others but he also raised millions of pounds for other teenagers with cancer. Stephen set out to raise £10, 000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust. He vastly exceeded this figure - to date, he has raised in excess of £5.5 million! This is the most an individual has ever raised for the charity.

  4. It was perhaps Stephen’s character that touched something in many people, leaving a lasting impression on all those who met him or heardabout his story.

  5. As a teenager, Stephen was already on the path to helping people. He was clever and compassionate and wanted to study to be a doctor. He had interviews at Cambridge University.

    In January 2013, when Stephen was told that the cancer was incurable, he set up a Facebook page entitled ‘Stephen’s Story’. There he created a list of things he wanted to achieve or experience as a means of coming to terms with the condition – his bucket list. He created a blog so that people could read about his efforts to achieve these goals.

    Stephen was described by those who knew him as witty and mischievous, which can be seen in the humour he showed as he set about achieving some of the wishes on his bucket list. These included meeting an array of celebrities in diverse fields from rock music to comedy; going on a lad’s holiday and even driving a tractor.

  6. In addition to personal wishes, Stephen included many fundraising events in his bucket list. He wanted to organize a charity football match and persuade schools to have a ‘get wiggly with it’ non-uniform day!

  7. Stephen managed to tick many ideas off his bucket list, but it was his passion to raise funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust that has had, and continues to have, a huge effect. 

  8. Despite being so young, Stephen’s actions teach us the importance of making the most of our lives despite the challenges we face. If there is something about which we feel passionately, then we should begin to take action now!

  9. Stephen received many awards in recognition of his achievements, including an MBE. Today, even after Stephen’s death, his positivity and inspirational attitude live on. He caught the public's imagination and raised awareness of Teenage Cancer like no one had managed to before. His work still provides much-needed funds that support young people with cancer, but also educate them about the importance of earlier diagnosis.

Time for reflection

Here is a personal statement, written by Stephen in 2011.

To put it simply, I’m awesome, incredible and amazing. Quite a statement I know, but it’s an attitude I’ve been forced to take up lately, simply due to being diagnosed with cancer about a year ago.

I look for no sympathy, but I thought it appropriate to mention it early because, in a really cheesy, defining and perhaps peculiarly ironic way, in the long term at least, I see it as one of the best things that have happened in my life. The drive, the motivation and the satisfaction I now take from life is the reason I thought it appropriate to start with such a bold statement. I find it hard to express my feelings via the characters I am currently typing, but honestly, life is what you make it, and I want it to be good. The positive outlook I now take on life has ignited a passion to learn and a desire to succeed.

Stephen’s mum paid this tribute to her son.

Stephen, your life may have been short but it was immensely significant and you demonstrated pure selflessness and positivity throughout. The feisty, determined way you tackled each diagnosis never allowed your spirit to falter. What always came through was pure Stephen, bright as any diamond and just as tough.

Each of your astonishing achievements over the last 17 months of your life created another memory, another impression to keep forever, another moment that cancer couldn’t steal. Your blog,' Stephen’s Story', wittily detailed your day-to-day life and because of your positivity was inspirational. By being so willing to share yourself so totally and with such honesty you defined the best of being human. Myself, friends and people you never met loved you for that.

. . .  It was an absolute honour to be your mum, Stephen.

If you want to find out more about Stephen, see the page about him on the Teenage Cancer Trust's website. If you would like to find out more about the Teenage Cancer Trust, you can visit its website, at:

Dear Lord,
We give thanks for the life of Stephen Sutton, a courageous and dedicated young man. 
Let us be inspired by his example and may it help us to become better people each day.
May our everyday liveshave a positive impact on other people.
Please let the positivity that Stephen showed motivate us to do something about our own passions.
Please be with those who are going through difficulties.
Please give them hope and strength.


'I believe I can fly' by R. Kelly or 'Hero' by Mariah Carey

Publication date: April 2016   (Vol.18 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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