Stuart’s Special Day story

Stuart was diagnosed with testicular cancer when he was 25. On further examination they found that there was cancer in both lungs, one fully, the other half. Stuart was told he had stage 4 cancer; the most aggressive form which spread from the lymph glands in his stomach into his brain and bones. Stuart’s Special Day was a unique opportunity to spend a day with the Red Arrows – his mum, Joyce exaplains what the Special Day meant to them as a family.

Prior to this, Stuart was a fit, healthy, caring young man who loved cycling, walking and who had a passion for classic cars. He was an active member of St John Ambulance and, as a teenager, he belonged to the ATC Air Cadets, where he fuelled his passion for aircraft.

Stuart remained in control of the situation, not once allowing it to get the better of him. It was as if he was telling it: ‘Okay you are here in me, you have control of my body but you are not going to have control of me.’ And he did, throughout his illness: he kept in control until he could control it no more. He never once changed from the person he had always been.

He still put others first. He thought the nurses’ time was wasted on him and that their attention was needed for patients more deserving them himself. It was during a course of chemotherapy treatment at the Royal Marsden that the nurse spoke to Stuart about Willow. She thought it would be great for him to have a Special Day.

Stuart thought long and hard about this and he decided that a day with the Red Arrows would be what he would like most. Both his dad and I thought this was the most wonderful idea and just perfect for Stuart with his love for planes. We filled out the application form and the nurse sent it off for us. Willow called to say the Red Arrows were having a training day in September and asked if we could make this day? Well nothing was going to stop us. We were so excited and Stuart was like the cat that got the cream. He continued with his treatment, keeping focused on the date.

The day from beginning to end was … well, just simply amazing. We met the whole of the team: the pilots, engineers, ground crew, office staff … everyone. We were there for their pre and post flight briefings. We had a tour of the grounds, looked over the aircraft. They treated us like royalty and Stuart as a young man, not a patient. Nothing was too much trouble. Stuart by now was in a wheelchair but they didn’t see the chair; they talked to Stuart, not over him.

We were so excited and Stuart was like the cat that got the cream. He continued with his treatment, keeping focused on the date.

Joyce, Stuart’s mum

We had lunch with the Red Arrows and then we watched a flying display; our very own flying display just for Stuart. I find it very hard indeed to put into words how this made me and his dad feel. Stuart was quite overwhelmed that he was there with the Red Arrows. He came away with a goodie bag, photos and a CD of the Red Arrows. He also came away with life.

I took more than 400 photos that day. Such precious photos, which were all printed off and put into two large photo albums for Stuart, which he treasured. He never stopped talking about his Special Day and the photo albums went everywhere he went. A few weeks later Stuart received a package from the Reds. It was the group photo of us all with them and everyone had signed it for him. This photo was framed and hung pride of place in Stuart’s room. He had copies made and framed them to give to family and friends for gifts. He gave one to the nurse at the Marsden who had put him forward to Willow, to say thank you to her. She just loved it.

Sadly Stuart deteriorated much sooner then any of us expected. He was admitted to the hospice a week after his 27th birthday. The photo and albums went with him and all the nurses there looked through them and asked him about his Special Day. He loved to talk about it. He told everyone how great the day had been, how proud and honoured he felt.

Stuart passed away in November, just two months after his Special Day. As devastating as this is for his dad and I, when we look at the photos of Stuart’s Special Day, we remember just how happy the day made him. We will always remember just what Willow and the Red Arrows did for Stuart and neither of us will ever forget that day; we hold it as close to our hearts as we do Stuart.