A young man who has battled cancer for most of his short life has finally lost his brave fight.
Sam Hedger died at his home in Billingshurst, with his loving mum and dad at his side, on Friday, aged just 20.
And his mum Linda today paid tribute to Sam’s bravery and his sense of humour that had shone through his long struggle.
“He was such an inspiration to so many people,” she said. “It felt like he brought the whole community together. We’re all so incredibly proud of him. He was just one awesome dude.
“We miss him so much, but we are just thankful that he is not suffering any more. He had so much of it in his life.”
Sam was first diagnosed with a form of cancer when he was aged just two and a half. In 2012 he was awarded a County Times Youth Award for courage after having to have his leg and pelvis amputated because of bone cancer.
Since then he underwent many gruelling bouts of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. But the cancer came back with a vengeance in February this year and Sam knew his time was limited.
“He went through hell,” said Linda, “literally hell, for a long time but he never once moaned or felt sorry for himself, never ever. He just got on with it and accepted the hand that was dealt him.”
And brave Sam carried his sense of humour through to the end by telling his mum that he wanted to wear his favourite T-shirt - emblazoned with the words Walking Dead - at his funeral.
Now mum Linda and dad Kevin, along with sisters Molly and Becky, will ensure his wishes are carried out when his funeral is held next week at Worthing Crematorium.
Sam specified that he wanted a piper playing Amazing Grace from the film Memphis Belle at the service, along with Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing, Run by Snow Patrol and Paradise City by Guns ‘N Roses.
When Sam knew he was dying he drew up a bucket list and managed to carry out a number of his dreams including riding on a tank, a helicopter trip, speed boat ride and more. But one dream he never achieved was an ultimate road trip on the USA’s Route 66.
However Sam’s family are now to take his ashes there to make sure he finally realises his wish. His ashes will then be brought home again - Sam expressed the wish to have half his ashes interred at Billingshurst Church yard - and half of them scattered at a special place at Bury Hill that Sam affectionately labelled ‘the top of the world.’
Mum Linda said Sam told her: “If you are having a bad day, you can go there and think of me. I will be with you.”
Sam attracted a huge public following of wellwishers when one of Linda’s friends - Caroline Greenfield - set up a ‘Sams Dreams’ Facebook page when Sam’s condition was first diagnosed as terminal.
Money raised through the page will now be donated to Southampton General Hospital where Sam was treated, the charity Snowdrop Trust and the Macmillan charity branch at Midhurst, along with the children’s hospice Chestnut Tree House.
Said Linda: “I would like to say a huge heartfelt thank-you to everybody who has given us support over the 17 and a half years of battling cancer. Everyone has been amazingly supportive.”
She paid particular thanks to Tesco in Pulborough where Sam had briefly worked and to Thakeham Homes who, when they heard that Sam had only a short time left to live, built an extension to the Hedger family home so that Sam could spend his precious last days there, surrounded by his family, rather than in hospital.
“It was done in 23 days,” said Linda. “It was incredible. It meant we could bring Sam home and we had three fantastic weeks with him. It was priceless and precious, just wonderful.”
She also expressed thanks to Sam’s medical teams, along with Macmillan and Marie Curie nurses and nurses from Chestnut Tree House who stayed with Sam all night on the eve of his death. “We’re so grateful to everybody.”
She also thanked the nurses from Macmillan in Midhurst. “They came out every day to tend to Sam and were just so loving and caring.”
But most of all Linda thanked Sam himself. “It is an honour, an absolute privilege, to have been Sam’s parents.
“One outstanding thing Sam taught us is to not say ‘I can’t do somehing’, just try and never give up. Enjoy what you have got and make the most of every moment. Sam’s mantra was: Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits.”
Sam’s funeral will be held at Worthing Crematorium at 11.40 am on November 9. Sam’s family say everyone is welcome at the service and Sam himself asked if everyone would wear bright colours - preferably blue. Family flowers only.