A SPECIAL and inspirational boy whose constant smile and lust for life lit up the room has lost his battle with a brain tumour at just five years old.
Matthew Phillips, of Shilbottle, was diagnosed with an ependymoma at 22 months old. He went through five relapses of the tumour, 13 operations, 14 months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy to try to combat the disease.
But last Tuesday, he lost his battle and slipped away with his mum Vicki dad Rob and 10-year-old brother Dan by his side.
Vicki said: “Matt was a very special little boy. When I look back over what he has gone through, there is not one bad memory of him. He smiled through everything and that just sums him up.
“He achieved so much in his short life, when I think about him it just makes me smile.”
Rob added: “He just enjoyed life. In five, nearly six, years he had such a hard time. Harder than most adult lives. But he just had enjoyment out of everything.
“He didn’t have a bad bone in his body. He was just lovely. He enjoyed life and was an inspiration to everybody.
“If everyone lived their life like Matt did, the world would be a better place.
“It is going to be very hard without him. We have got to learn from what Matt did in the sense that we have to go out and enjoy life. Do the things that we should be doing and enjoy everyone and everything around us like he did.
“There is going to be a huge void in our lives but it has to be said that we will always have a piece of Matt with us. I would replace every single memory we have of him for him to be here. But that is not going to happen so we have to make the most of the memories that we have.”
Matthew had surgery in November to remove the tumour but over Christmas he wasn’t himself and developed a chest infection.
He started to struggle to swallow but continued to play. But in mid-January a scan showed that the tumour had returned, invading Matthew’s brain stem and the surrounding area.
“We knew at that point there was nothing more we could do,” Vicki said.
“We always said that he made it so easy for us all the way through the treatments and the constant struggle that we would know when it was time to stop.
“We knew that because he deteriorated so quickly there was nothing else that could possibly be done.
“He has been so well-tempered, he took everything in his stride and enabled us to give him treatments and just smiled through it all.
“A lot of children are very, very ill before they die but fortunately Matt wasn’t.
“We never told him what was going to happen. But he started watching old DVDs of himself and wanted his baby toys out and his old scrap books.
“He wanted to look at his memories and wanted to go through everything.
“Matt slept in with me because he wore an oxygen mask at night and he started saying he wanted to sleep in his own room. We kind of knew that he was saying that was where he wanted to be when he died. Then last Monday he looked up at the picture (of himself on the wall) and looked at me and said ‘it is good to be at home’.
“The next morning, he was talking about how he was going to be a rally driver and again said ‘I want to go to my room’.
“We knew what he was saying. He waited until we were at the point where we accepted that he was going to go. Rob got the room sorted for him and he was conscious and talking. Then as soon as we laid him down on the bed he became unconscious.”
Matthew continued to breathe and Vicki and Rob stayed with him while Dan came in and out of the room. But at around 4pm, Dan went into the room and said: “You’re the best little brother and I love you very much.”
“That was it,” Vicki said. “He was waiting for the three of us to be together and as he has always done, he did it his way. He orchestrated the whole thing. He made sure that we were ready and he was ready. I just think that is pretty amazing.”
Matthew and Dan were extremely close and his loss has come as a huge blow to him as well.
Rob said: “Dan and Matt idolised each other.
“The day after Matt died Dan said he was scared to be without his brother and I think that is how it is going to be for him. Every day is going to be a challenge. A huge part of Dan has gone.”
Vicki said: “I am just in awe of Dan. No 10-year-old should have to go through what he has had to go though. He has had to give up a lot because of Matt.
“He has had to cope with seeing his brother going through all this. And he has had to sacrifice time spent with him, but he wasn’t bothered because he knew his brother needed it.
“I couldn’t have done all of that at 10-years-old. Dan took a lot of responsibility on with Matt because he was his big brother.
“All the way through Dan has been exceptional. They had a fantastic bond. They were very very close from the word go. Dan was so proud to have a little brother.”
Rob added: “Everyone who met Matt fell in love with him. Why should Dan be any different?
“We are only just really starting to find out how many people were touched by Matt.
“Matt had the biggest heart and biggest imagination. People used to say Matt’s mum and dad can tell good stories but Matt tells them better.
“One of our aims was always to raise awareness about childhood cancer and if we have managed to do that because of Matt then it is a positive thing.
“We are really grateful for all the support we have received throughout the whole thing.”
Matthew was known for his vivid imagination and love of Peter Pan. He wanted to marry Tinkerbell and live in Never Never Land.
He also loved animals and most recently had a rabbit named Timmy to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
Matthew loved colours and his family has asked for people attending his funeral to wear a splash of colour.
Staff at Shilbottle First School have helped to organise Matthew’s funeral, described as a celebration of his life. They will be putting together a keepsake in which people can leave their memories of Matthew for Vicki, Rob and Dan.
Matthew’s funeral, described as a celebration of his life, will take place on Tuesday, February 15 at 11.45am at West Road Crematorium. Family flowers only but donations can be made to the Joseph Foot Foundation in Matthew’s memory.