Gillespie becomes ambassador for important fund
Just over two weeks ago United keeper Mark Gillespie picked up his phone to ask club media officer Andy Hall if there would be any problems caused if he was to agree to become an ambassador for a charity which was very close to his heart.
As you would expect, the answer was plain and simple.
“Crikey, Mark, no problems at all.”
Let me explain.
The Toma Fund, set up in honour of a young man called Jordan Thompson who sadly died from leukaemia in 2007, is a grant-making organisation which provides assistance in a number of ways for young people and their families, in the north east and Cumbria, who are currently fighting against cancer in its many forms.
Mark was a close friend of Jordan - the pair played their football together at the Newcastle United academy and could often be found rattling up the scores for their local cricket team - and was absolutely delighted to be given the opportunity to help his memory live on in this way.
“It was a massive shock to us all when Jordan was diagnosed,” he explained. “He told everyone he felt ill but we all thought that it would just go away. When he sat us all down and said it was cancer it hit us really hard.”
“I found it very difficult to deal with,” he admitted. “It was horrible to watch him struggle and I found that the best way for me to handle it was to go and see him as much as possible. He was so positive and happy, even though there were times you could tell he felt awful, that it was an inspiration for all of us.”
“I think the whole idea behind the Toma Fund was because he wanted to do so much to help other people who were in the same situation he was,” he added. “The doctors and nurses at the time couldn’t believe that someone who had been through that was doing so much for others. His mum, Andrea, and the rest of the family have really taken it on and I know Jordan would feel really proud about that.”
And the new ambassador’s first official job was to meet a young man called Corey McClean, from Westnewton near Wigton, who is currently battling against Hodgkins’ Lymphona to present him with a laptop to help him along with his studies (and possibly a few games) as the weeks go by.
“I just got back to school two weeks ago after my chemotherapy,” Corey said. “I never thought I’d say it but it’s great to be back there. Sitting at home and going for treatment gets boring after a while.”
“I think the message I want to try and get across is that the Toma Fund is there for people all over the region, and not just for those in the north east,” Mark said. “It’s been brilliant to be able to do this for Corey.
“I know how hard it is for young people who are diagnosed with cancer because I saw it first hand with Jordan. Any little thing we can do to help is massive for them and their families and that’s something I really want to be part of.
“When you see someone smiling the way Corey is now it’s almost infectious. You want more of it because you know you’re helping to bring a bit of happiness in what is a tough time. The more people we can help through this fund then the better it will be as far as I’m concerned.”
One of the driving forces behind the fund, Jordan’s mum Andrea Thompson, echoed those thoughts.
“There are no words to describe what it’s like to lose your child to this disease,” she said. “I also lost my niece when she was very young [Sophie Atay] and it just completely devastates the whole family and all of their friends.
“Jordan knew that and when he got through the first batch of treatment he had a real desire and determination to do as much as he could to help others. I look back at that and think if he was like that then I have to be as well. I know he would be so happy to see us give this laptop to Corey today and that’s why I will continue to do as much as I can, for as long as I can, for as many people as possible who face this type of really stressful situation.”
To date, the Toma Fund has already raised over £700,000 but that, for Andrea and her husband Dave, is just the start.
“Dave is off to Jordan this weekend to do a trek across the desert to raise more funds,” she explained. “We’re calling that ‘Jordan for Jordan’ and we plan to do even more things like it. We have Great North Run members every year and we are constantly looking for new ways to raise funds to help people who really need it.
“It’s fantastic to have someone like Mark on board because not only was he really close to Jordan but he is a recognisable figure in this area. I can’t thank him enough and I am not surprised at all by the enthusiasm he has shown. He helped Jordan through some tough times and I will always be very grateful for that, and for what he is still doing for Jordan now.”
Corey’s mum Lesley and his nana Jean were quick to add to the praise.
“Mark has been wonderful,” Lesley said. “We were told about the Toma Fund when we were at the RVI for treatment but we never expected anything like this.
“Corey has finished his chemotherapy now and the next step is to go for a series of scans. Our fingers are crossed because it has been hard for us all. Corey has been really brave and good with it and it’s little things like being given a laptop and a signed football shirt which make a huge difference. It really does lift everybody.”
“The RVI notify patients about the fund and we help from there if we can,” Andrea said. “I wake up every day knowing that Jordan would ask us to do as much as we could and that will always be my driving force. I’ve been a manager in various retail and food outlets before but I couldn’t imagine doing any of that now. The Toma Fund is my inspiration and hopefully it can be that way for others too.”
And inspiration, when you meet these people, is the word which immediately springs to mind.
If you feel you could help with the Toma Fund, or would like to donate, please visit www.tomafund.org
for more information.