UoB student Ethan Thompson conquers London Marathon in support of uni pal who's overcome a brain tumour

Ethan Thompson

Congratulations to University of Birmingham student Ethan Thompson, who has conquered the world’s most famous marathon and raised thousands of pounds for Brain Tumour Research.

His motivation was his schoolfriend and fellow Birmingham University undergraduate, who has been treated for an aggressive form of the disease.

On Sunday 3 October, Ethan Thompson, from Ilkley in West Yorkshire, took on the 26.2-mile Virgin Money London Marathon in support of 22-year-old Ned Hilton. He ran the race in an impressive 3:51:53. Ned, a student of modern languages (Russian and Spanish), was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2018, at the age of 19.

Ethan, who is studying for a Master’s (MSci) degree in mathematics, said: “I met Ned when we were in year 5 at primary school. We then went to the same secondary school and although we weren’t in the same class, we had lots of lessons together and shared similar interests, such as cycling and running. We became close friends. I remember a trip to the Lake District with friends after our GCSEs when the two of us got up early one morning to run up Skiddaw together. We’ve always had a lot in common.”

After Ned and Ethan both gained places to study at the university of Birmingham, they lived close to one another in their first year and in their second year, they moved in to a house share in Selly Oak together. It was during their second year that Ned received his devastating diagnosis.

Ned was referred by his GP to the neurosurgery team at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham after experiencing hearing problems in one ear. They initially thought he had a low-grade acoustic neuroma but, on 11 February 2019, Ned was told his tumour actually appeared to be high-grade. Two months later he underwent two brain surgeries within eight days of each other, as surgeons worked to remove as much of the tumour as possible. The histology report revealed it was a medulloblastoma, the most common high-grade paediatric brain tumour.

He went on to complete a six-week course of intensive radiotherapy, followed by gruelling chemotherapy, which lasted 36 weeks. 

Ethan said: “I visited Ned in hospital and was always struck by how upbeat and positive he was. He never appeared to be sad or stressed about the situation. It was remarkable.”

The invasive surgeries left Ned deaf in one ear and he suffered damage to the nerves in some of his facial muscles. In September 2020, he underwent further surgery, which had been postponed after he contracted COVID-19. That operation succeeded in repairing his nerve endings and he is gradually regaining control of his face.

Ethan said: “It’s wonderful to see Ned go from strength to strength after all he’s been through. After missing nearly two years of his studies, Ned has incredibly managed to catch up and is now in his third year and has just begun an overseas placement in Moscow. He is a talented linguist and making it to Russia was always his goal. I’m so pleased he’s achieved it.”

Ethan first signed up to take part in the April 2020 London Marathon, which was cancelled at the beginning of the pandemic. The fact that the April 2021 event was also put back meant he effectively trained for the marathon three times.

He said: “It was inconvenient and difficult to keep the energy levels up but I’ve tried to be philosophical about it and have gone with the flow. I’m glad that it’s finally been ticked off now.

“The London Marathon 2021 was my first ever marathon and it was absolutely remarkable. The atmosphere was amazing all the way around the course. Even the ‘quieter’ bits were buzzing and I just got carried along by the cheering, with people shouting my name and clapping throughout. I’ve already entered the ballot for next year!”

Ethan has had fantastic support from strangers, friends and family, who’ve helped him to reach a fundraising total of more than £4,000.

He said: “The key was publicising my fundraising page as much as I could. I’m not a usually a big user of social media but I set up an Instagram account, so people could follow my progress. I also had great support from the university’s Liberal Democrat Society, which Ned is a member of. I’m delighted to have raised so much to help find a cure for this awful disease.” 

Also taking part in yesterday’s race for Brain Tumour Research was Ned’s godfather, reverend Phil Summers, who lives in Dursley in Gloucestershire.

Ethan said: “Phil was phenomenal. Knowing he was there running for the same cause was really motivational, as was having my friends and Ned’s family at various cheer stations en route. I feel overwhelmed by the encouragement I had and so grateful to everyone who helped me to make it over the finish line.”

Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer yet historically just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease.

Carol Robertson, national events manager for Brain Tumour Research, said: “Our sincere thanks go to Ethan for taking on – and accomplishing – such an epic challenge to help fund vital research into brain tumours. Ned’s story reminds us that brain tumours are indiscriminate and can affect anyone at any age. We were delighted to see Ethan finish the marathon and congratulate him and Phil on their spectacular achievements.”

Brain Tumour Research funds sustainable research at dedicated centres in the UK. It also campaigns for the Government and the larger cancer charities to invest more in research into brain tumours in order to speed up new treatments for patients and, ultimately, to find a cure. The charity is calling for a national annual spend of £35 million in order to improve survival rates and patient outcomes in line with other cancers such as breast cancer and leukaemia and is also campaigning for greater repurposing of drugs.

To make a donation to Ethan, please visit: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/EthanThompson.


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