The mother of a teenager who raised millions of pounds for a cancer charity said her “heart is bursting with pride but breaking with pain” after her son lost his three-and-a-half-year fight against the disease.
The death of 19-year-old Stephen Sutton yesterday also prompted countless tributes from political leaders, sports stars and celebrities who backed his campaign to help the Teenage Cancer Trust.
Stephen, from Burntwood, Staffordshire, died three days after being re-admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties after tumours grew back.
As donations to his JustGiving page continued to rise, passing £3.3 million, his family thanked hundreds of thousands of supporters who backed his social media campaign.
“RIP Stephen Sutton” was the top trending topic on Twitter in the UK in the hours after his death was announced, and one of the top ten worldwide.
In a message on Facebook, his mother Jane wrote: “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.
“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.”
Broadcaster Clare Balding said: “Desperately sad to hear that Stephen Sutton has died. I feel privileged to have met him and heard him speak.”
Singer Barry Manilow described him as “an inspiring and beautiful soul”, while broadcaster Phillip Schofield said: “My thoughts are with the family and friends of the remarkable Stephen Sutton. Would that we could all create such a legacy with such dignity.”
Olympic sailor Ben Ainslie tweeted: “I was fortunate to hear Stephen Sutton speak about his story. What an incredibly brave, determined and inspiring person he was #RIP.”
Stephen, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer aged 15, was visited earlier this month at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital by Prime Minister David Cameron.
After hearing of Stephen’s death, Mr Cameron said a “very, very bright light” had gone out.
Offering his deepest sympathies to Stephen’s family, he added: “I can hardly think of anyone I’ve met with such a zest for life, and such a belief that you can get things done, and who wanted to live every minute.”
The Facebook post written by Stephen’s mother following his death was shared more than 120,000 times within an hour of its publication.
During his fund-raising campaign, Stephen’s Facebook page went from 16,000 “likes” to 989,000 in one month, attracting 200,000 new “likes” in the past two days alone.
Donations to the Teenage Cancer Trust via Stephen’s fund-raising page – www.justgiving.com/stephen-sutton-tct – saw a spike in the hours after his death.
The trust said in a statement: “We are humbled and hugely grateful for what Stephen achieved and continues to achieve for us. The thoughts of everyone here are with Stephen’s family and friends.”
Comedian Jason Manford, who championed Stephen’s fundraising, paid tribute to him as “the most inspiring person I’ve ever met”. He added: “In his darkest hour, he selflessly dedicated his final moments to raising millions for teenagers with cancer.”
Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, which estimates around 2,100 people under 50 are diagnosed with the disease each year, said: “Stephen’s story struck a chord with the nation.”