Jordan David Thompson, or Toma as he was lovingly known, was just 15 when he lost his 19-month battle with leukaemia. A few years later, his two-year-old cousin Sophie also passed away tragically after suffering from neuroblastoma. ‘Jordan was a Newcastle Academy football player, a county cricketer and a great golfer,’ says Andrea Thompson, Jordan’s mother, Sophie’s auntie and CEO of the Toma Fund. ‘He was such a fit, all-round sportsman and I never in a million years thought I’d lose him. He was also extremely generous. There was a 10-month period when Jordan was doing really well and getting better, and during that time he tried to raise awareness and funds for other families who were going through the same thing. When we lost him, it was a case of either crawl into a corner and die or be positive and get on with your life like he would have wanted us to. So we continued what Jordan had started and made the experience a positive one rather than negative.’
And so the Toma Fund was born. ‘It was really successful from day one – between 2008 and 2010 we raised over £400,000 for the new RVI paediatric cancer unit. When we achieved that, we knew Jordan’s dream had been accomplished, but because I had loved it so much and found it so rewarding, we decided it was time to set the Toma Fund up as an independent registered charity. My husband and I sat down and discussed our time in the hospital, remembering the financial hardship we’d suffered. Our mortgage was in arrears because at the time nothing else mattered other than that Jordan was ill and we had to be there for him. Bills piled up – work only pays you for so long – but we were just trying to struggle through as a family and get to the light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately there was no light for us, but the debt was still there. So we decided to financially support families going through the same thing.’
Applications for financial help come through social workers at a charity called CLIC Sargent, who liaise with patients and their families in hospital and guide them through the process. ‘We help 0 to 24-year-olds and their families,’ says Andrea, ‘Whether with their mortgage or utility bills for a month or two or contributions towards travelling expenses to and from hospital. Even if you live in Cumbria, Middlesbrough or north Northumberland, when your child is diagnosed with cancer you have to go to the RVI or the Freeman in Newcastle, which means huge expense for a lot of families. In the worst case scenario, we also get applications for money towards a child’s funeral, because government help is only available when the child was under the age of 16.’
The Toma Fund is also about bringing the smallest moments of joy to the horrific journey many families have to face. ‘One example is a two-year-old girl whose garden was given a makeover. Because of her weak immune system, she couldn’t really mix with other children, so they wanted her garden to be a place she could play safely without risk of infection. We were approached by the company who did it to buy some play equipment for the little child, so we bought things like a slide, a swing and a little wooden house.
‘We also receive applications for holiday insurance, because if a child has had cancer, it can cost the earth to insure them abroad. Another thing is spending money – some families are granted a Make-A-Wish holiday to somewhere amazing like Florida, but can’t afford spending money to make the experience unforgettable, so we can provide that for them. For those who can’t leave the hospital, we also get a lot of requests from teenagers for iPads to help them keep in touch with their friends, play games and watch TV.’
Focusing on quality of life and making good memories, Andrea came up with the idea for the latest campaign, Some Time Of Our Own, which has been supported by former Newcastle United goalkeeper Steve Harper. ‘One thing my son loved was our caravan holidays to Berwick and last time we were there, the idea for Some Time Of Our Own hit me. We treasure the time we had there and made some beautiful memories and I wanted other families to have that too. We’re therefore buying a caravan there to allow families to go away for entirely free holidays all year round. It’ll never be empty – we can give up to 42 families a free week’s holiday every year, whether the kids are undergoing treatment, in recovery, terminal or the family is grieving.
‘The Toma Fund has helped over 100 families in various ways over the last year and we’ve never turned an application away. But we are little, we are local, and we do need the help from individuals and businesses to support us. We wouldn’t be here today without it and for that we’re forever grateful.’
For more information or to read more of the Toma Fund’s amazing case studies, please visit www.tomafund.org