“The centre of our world”: Bereaved parents fundraise in their young son’s memory

Bereaved parents, Ryan and Sarah, fundraise in their young son's memory.

Runners and spectators at the Littlehampton 10K in September may have been surprised to see a whole football team running past. The group of youngsters from Worthing Town Football Club ran and fundraised in memory of their friend and clubmate, Patrick Lownds, who died in 2022 at the age of ten.

Patrick was an active, popular nine-year-old when he was diagnosed with malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumour, a type of sarcoma. It is an extremely rare form of cancer, with only 50 paediatric cases across the whole of Europe in the last 10 years.

“Patrick was larger than life,” says his dad, Ryan. “He loved sports, he liked to laugh, loved music and dancing.

“There wasn’t a day he wasn’t busy: he was a member of Worthing Town football team and sea-swimming was one of his favourite things to do. He was also a Beaver, he practised kung fu and he played basketball.

“Patrick was a child who threw himself into everything. He was a real character – very talkative, and he didn’t miss a trick, but he was also kind and sensitive.

“I remember once he got an infection and he had to stay in hospital leading up to Christmas. There was a little boy, George, in the bed next to him. George had just been diagnosed with cancer and he celebrated his fifth birthday while we were there. And Patrick made a concerted effort to try and cheer him up. He was dancing about, making George laugh – and the more George laughed, the more Patrick danced.

He was comforting George about needing chemotherapy, telling him it wasn’t as bad as he thought. It was surreal, listening to a nine-year-old saying that to a five-year-old, but that was Patrick all over.”

Patrick with his mum and Dad

“Getting ahead of my grief”

Ryan and Patrick’s mum, Sarah, ran the Littlehampton 10K to raise money for Chestnut Tree House, the children’s hospice that helped them after he died. Running has helped them through their grief, says Ryan. “I’ve always been a sprinter and I hate long-distance running. But it’s something we have taken up since Patrick died because we thought it would be a healthy thing for us mentally. There’s no two ways about it – it’s a coping mechanism, a form of therapy. There are times when I’m running where it feels like I’m getting ahead of my grief. But after those brief moments, the grief always catches up, and that is okay – because it comes from my love for Patrick”.

Ryan ran the London Marathon in 2023 in support of another charity that helped the family but found the period afterwards very deflating. “I believe that can happen anyway after a big run, but the marathon was on the 23rd and Patrick’s anniversary was the 26th, so it was a perfect storm. After that, I didn’t go back to running for a while so the Littlehampton 10K was good for us.

“That competitive element is there for some of the runners. But on the whole, it’s more about everyone coming together for the cause. There’s a really nice atmosphere and it was made even more special this year for us because we had Patrick’s best friend, Archie, and eight other members of his football club running with us. Team Patrick is evolving. Last year, there were four of us and we’ve already had more people asking to join, so we’ll have even more next year.”

A legacy of love

Patrick was only ten years old when he died, but he leaves a remarkable legacy behind. His football team, Worthing Town, presents an annual goalkeeper award in his name and his favourite basketball team, Worthing Thunder, played a memorial match for him last year. The team also renamed one of their awards in Patrick’s honour. Throughout his illness, Patrick was determined to keep attending his school, Orchard Juniors in Goring-by-Sea. Sarah says: “He had six weeks of radiotherapy in London and on the last day we’d intended to stay overnight. We found him packing all his stuff because he wanted to be ready for school in the morning.

“He was determined not to let cancer define him.”

Sarah and Ryan remember Patrick as being old beyond his years. He loved Fleetwood Mac, and their live album was the soundtrack to their journeys to and from treatment. “There was one day when they had to dress up at school, and Patrick went as Elton John in his Rocket Man period. He had this inflatable rocket suit on and when we got to school the headmaster said, ‘I knew who was inside that suit from miles away!’”

Patrick and his best friend, Archie, also had their own band, called Three Kings. “They were the only permanent members, and it was like a revolving door for the other member,” says Ryan. “They had their own little YouTube channel where they did interviews – they spent more time doing those than the actual music.

“We played one of the interviews at Patrick’s funeral. Of course, there were very sombre moments during the ceremony, but that put a smile on people’s faces.”

Patrick's dad Ryan running Littlehampton10k

“The centre of our world”

Patrick remained active, continuing to play basketball until close to the end. Although the family had been referred to Chestnut Tree House earlier in their journey, it hadn’t felt right at the time. But when Patrick died, their community nurse suggested that they take him to the Stars bereavement suite at the hospice.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” says Sarah, “but he was able to stay in Stars for two weeks, which was a massive help to us. I wouldn’t say it helped us to come to terms with things because we will never come to terms with his death, but it did help us to process what had happened.

“It felt like time stood still there. We were still with Patrick, so we were in a kind of bubble, and we didn’t want to leave, because leaving felt so final.”

Ryan adds that the nurses also helped them with practical arrangements, providing the support the couple needed to move forward.

“The nurses were very respectful, and it was a very serene, spiritual environment,” he says. “Some of our extended family and friends were able to come and pay their own respects, which gave them the time to say goodbye. It’s strange, because we feel very entrenched with Chestnut – but our relationship didn’t truly begin until after Patrick passed.”

Now the couple plan to continue their fundraising for the charities that helped their family. A group of their friends are doing their Jingle Bell Drop this November in aid of Chestnut Tree House, and other friends and family are planning their own fundraising.

For Patrick’s loving parents, it is a way to continue his legacy. “He was – and still is – the centre of our world,” says Sarah.  “For us, everything revolves around Patrick.”

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Ryan running the Littlehampton 10k