In a land where many heroic battles have been waged, Matthew Tate, 12, is a crusader who has taken to England's highways and by-ways to fight one of the most dreaded diseases. Matthew has Ewing's Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, but instead of becoming a victim in his battle against the disease, he has become a warrior.
When he learned last year that he had cancer, Matthew admitted he was scared, but he vowed he would fight back. His goal was to raise 20,000 pounds (approximately $38,000) for research to help find a cure for cancer and to help other young victims. To do this, his tactic was to go on a sponsored walk from the center of his hometown to a hospital in Surrey, 75 miles away.When Matthew told his parents, Michael and Felicity Tate, that he wanted to go on a walk to raise funds, they thought he was talking about 5 or 10 miles. "No, Dad, I want to do a big walk - from Eastleigh to Surrey," he told his father, who was just recently released as bishop of the Winchester Ward, Southampton England Stake.
Although his doctors thought he had been weakened too much by chemotherapy to undertake a 75 mile-walk, Matthew persisted. When he embarked on his much-publicized trek last Sept. 15, he had already raised 450 pounds. When he finished the walk four days later, the total was 3,000 pounds. But the end of Matthew's walk did not mark the end of the contributions, which have continued to come in from sponsors. As of March 7, Matthew had raised 18,300 pounds toward his goal.
"All during his sickness, Matthew has had supporters," said his mother. "Church members have written him letters of encouragement and telephoned him." Members have brought meals, and have looked after Matthew's younger brother and sister, Mitchell, 2; and Meagan, 9. They have taken in his older brothers, Mark, 15; and Michael-John, 17. "Members have shown much caring and loving, and have demonstrated what it is like to put the gospel into action," said Sister Tate.
Friends and strangers have rallied around Matthew. Along the route of his walk bus loads of school children were driven to meet him and walk with him a few miles each day. People filled town squares and lined roadways to cheer him on. Companies provided food, drink and accommodations for Matthew and his support crew.
His father and brother Mark, and a grandfather, John Tate, and a great-uncle, Bob Tate, walked with him. His mother walked the first and last days. A grandmother, Doris Tate, and an aunt, Trish Skinner, drove a van with banners and went ahead to alert people in each town of Matthew's arrival. A ward member, Don Pilkinton drove a minibus to pick up those who walked a while with Matthew but then stopped.
Mayors greeted Matthew in each town, and he met many television, radio and sports celebrities. Dozens of newspaper articles were written about him.
"As you can imagine, Matthew at some stages felt he couldn't go on because his legs and body ached," said his mother. "However, each morning, after he had had a good night's sleep, he was always the first one awake, saying `Come on, let's have breakfast and get ready to go.'
"Matthew's illness has humbled us greatly as a family," said Sister Tate who explained that Matthew is a third-generation Mormon. His Grandfather and Grandmother Tate were baptized in 1961. His grandmother on his mother's side, Barbara Chater, joined the Church in 1958, and his mother's father, Brian Chater, was baptized in 1969.
"Matthew is blessed to have both grandfathers serve as patriarchs," said Sister Tate. "We have come to realize that we can turn a trial into a growing experience. At first, we were devastated, and even felt there was some mistake. But as time went on and we realized that this was for real, we knew we had to take some sort of positive action. We decided that no matter what the outcome, we would be positive and accept whatever came our way."
Matthew recalled the early stages of his illness. "At first, I didn't know what was wrong with me. I just remembered Mom and Dad had gone to see the specialist, and when they came back I could tell my mom was crying. Something inside me made me feel so scared.
"When Dad called us all together as a family and told us that I was going to a hospital in London to receive special treatment, then I was so scared my whole body began to shake. Dad asked someone else to give me a blessing. Dad said he knew he had the same priesthood, but he was scared that he would ask for his will, and not for Heavenly Father's will.
"I remember the blessing made me feel so calm, and I wasn't scared anymore. I knew that if the pain could go away and I could walk again, I would be so happy."
When Matthew arrived at the hospital in London, he was upset to see many children without any hair because of chemotherapy; he was told he would probably lose his hair. Eventually, his humor came out, and he joked about being bald.
"Seeing other children who were worse off than he was instilled a desire in Matthew's heart to do something positive," said Sister Tate, "That's when he suggested the walk."
She said he is progressing quite well, although he still feels tired and a little weak after having undergone a bone marrow transplant in January. "He has spent a few hours at school, after not having been in school for 14 months."