Five-year-old Darlington boy runs 10k in memory of his best friend who died from rare brain tumour

A five-year-old boy has run 10k in memory of his best friend after she died from an inoperable brain tumour.

Little Rowan Lyons lost his classmate Sophie Welburn, five, to a rare but fast-growing brain tumour. She sadly passed away in March this year, just eight and a half months after being diagnosed with cancer.

Sophie was four years old when she was found to have a brain tumour in July 2021. Her parents were told that her prognosis was terminal and she had an estimated life expectancy of just nine months.

Despite Sophie’s illness, she continued to go to school until March this year. The youngsters, both from Darlington, met in September last year when they both started at Abbey Infant School in the town. Sophie’s condition quickly deteriorated and on March 18 she died peacefully at home with her loving family by her side.

Following Sophie’s death, Rowan completed five 2km junior park runs in her memory – one for every year of her short life. His impressive efforts have raised more than £502 for Brain Tumour Research. He said: “I felt really sad when Sophie died, and I miss my best friend. I wanted to do something good, and I like running. I felt very tired afterwards.”

Rowan’s mum, Marianne Lyons, said: “My husband, Rob, and I are really proud of him. We still talk about Sophie, and the fundraising has helped Rowan to understand what has happened.”

five-year-old darlington boy runs 10k in memory of his best friend who died from rare brain tumour
© Chonicle Live Rowan has completed five junior park runs in Sophie’s memory

Sophie was diagnosed with a brain tumour known as a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG). It forms in glial cells in a part of the brain stem called the pons.

The pons controls the nerves and muscles that help us perform basic but vital functions such as walking, talking, breathing and swallowing. A DIPG takes over this area of the brain and gradually stops these functions working.

Sophie’s Mum, Louise Wray, said: “Rowan didn’t know Sophie was poorly and he embraced her like any other child. Although Sophie only attended a few mornings each week when she was well enough to, Rowan would wait for her by the door of the classroom. They were so close, she even made him a Valentine’s card.”

Sophie’s dad, Chris Welburn, added: “Sophie and Rowan were such good friends, and I think what he’s done is so lovely. He is a little superstar. I think Sophie would be so proud of Rowan, and she would be cheering him on.”

According to Brain Tumour Research, brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer. Yet historically, just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to the disease.

Brain Tumour Research funds sustainable research at dedicated centres in the UK. It also campaigns for the Government and the larger cancer charities to invest more research into brain tumours in order to speed up new treatments for patients and find a cure.

Matthew Price, community development manager at Brain Tumour Research, said: “We also think Rowan is a superstar, and we’re really grateful to him as it’s only with the support of people like him that we’re able to progress our research into brain tumours and improve the outcome for patients like Sophie who are forced to fight this awful disease.

“Unlike many other cancers, brain tumours are indiscriminate. They can affect anyone at any time. Too little is known about the causes and that is why increased investment in research is vital.”

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