Memorial to a boy's courage

RICHARD BATSON It is the voice from beyond the grave of a 16-year-old schoolboy whose brave fight against cancer touched everyone who knew him.

RICHARD BATSON

It is the voice from beyond the grave of a 16-year-old schoolboy whose brave fight against cancer touched everyone who knew him.

Today people across Norfolk will hear Matthew Fletcher speak again in a poignant audio diary which charts the last four months of a life cut tragically short.

Towards the end he talks about his sadness that he will never take his younger brother for a pint, teach him to drive or be able to give him advice over girls.

But the diary, to be broadcast daily on Radio Norfolk this week, is also an inspirational record of the teenager's honesty, zest for life, optimism and courage.

It tracks the rollercoaster of emotion-al and physical pain before, during and after the bone marrow transplant - where his mum was the donor - which it was hoped would save his life.

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Matthew died at the family home at Cawston, near Aylsham, last November after a year-long battle against acute myeloid leukaemia.

Months of chemotherapy, radio-therapy and a transplant from mother Clare, a head teacher at North Walsham Infant School, could not save him. His story was highlighted in the EDP and, when he went to Radio Norfolk to do an interview last summer, presenters were so impressed with his upbeat manner, they asked him to record a diary of the following months.

Breakfast show producer Lyn McKinney said: “We did not expect him to die at that point. He impressed us with his upbeat approach to a serious situation.”

The tapes echo the radio documentary made by the late BBC presenter Nick Clarke, charting his battle against cancer and leg amputation, which ended with his death, aged 58, also in November.

Matthew's diary, which begins last August, follow his progress through the transplant, where he describes the feel and the smell of the operation: “There are 160mls of baby cells going in. It feels fine, it doesn't hurt.”

There are rough times afterwards when he talks of “bones tingling, vision fading” and chest pains, then being hooked up to a morphine pump.

Matthew, who wanted to study electrical engineering when he left school, set up his own website - lemonjelly.moonfruit.com - and used video computer technology to keep in touch with his friends from his hospital bed.

Good times include recovering enough to come out of hospital and coming back home to celebrate his 16th birthday.

But on November 3 Matthew reveals the doctors told him bad news. “The consultants can see blast (leukaemia) cells in the blood.”

True to form, however, he admits he “took it pretty well”.

Returning home for the final weeks, the youngster talks about enjoying the presents, cards, banners and friends that greeted him.

As he weakened his mother acted as a 'reporter', and asked Matthew: “Are you scared?”

Matthew replied: “No. It will be a new experience.”

Drugged by the morphine he describes “floating away on a cloud of marshmallow”.

And in his last diary entry on November 14 - nine days before he died - Matthew says his biggest concern and regrets for the future was not being with younger brother James, who is 11.

“I cannot take him for a pint, teach him to drive or give him advice over girls,” he says in a final tape.

The accounts will bring a lump to the throat of listeners to the Stephen Bumfrey breakfast show when they are played after 9am each weekday.

Mrs McKinney, who said she and Mr Bumfrey were “greatly moved” by Matthew's diary, added: “The final day is particularly tough, but we hope it will give people inspiration. He was a lad who never asked 'why me?' And his parents wanted the diary to be broadcast.”

Matthew's mother said the diary was “an opportunity for people to try to understand what it feels like to go through a stem cell procedure that is going to be used more and more for a wider range of illnesses.”

Sharing the experience would hopefully give people knowledge and reduce their fear, said Mrs Fletcher.

It was unlikely the family would listen to the broadcasts live, but they had the diary recordings which they could play when they were strong enough.

In the meantime the memory of Matthew was also living on through various charity work, including fund-raising at the local shop where he was a paper boy, his school, and a trio of friends doing the London marathon. And a dragon boat racing day, in aid of the Anthony Nolan bone marrow trust, where Matthew last year presented the prizes, will this summer be held in his honour.

t Those who cannot listen to the audio diaries live, can do it through the Radio Norfolk website at www.bbc.co.uk/norfolk/local_radio

t For more information about being a bone marrow donor visit www.anthonynolan.org.uk