In May 2004, Rob Shakhani went to the same hospital room he had been visiting every week for months to surprise his close friend Tyrone de Alwis.
However, Tyrone’s name was no longer on the door and staff broke the news that the 21-year-old had died.
Tyrone had suffered a couple of relapses of leukaemia since he was a child, but Rob, who met Tyrone in sixth form, told MyLondon that his friend always seemed “completely normal”, with no sign of being ill.
Almost two decades after he lost his friend, Rob says Tyrone, who was on target for a 1st class degree in Economics at London School of Economics (LSE), “inspired” him and has “left his mark in my memory”.
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Rob, now 38 and living in Highgate, met Tyrone after he moved to Dame Alice Owens for sixth form.
The two took Economics and Maths classes together and became very close.
Their friendship lasted five years, from 1999 to 2004.
Rob remembers Tyrone as “one of the nicest people I have come across in my life”.
“He was extremely bright and funny,” he said.
“He had a good sense of humour, and was very loyal, trustworthy, and caring. I felt like I learnt a lot from him during the time I knew him.”
He added: “He was an only child, and often told me he looked to me as a brother.”
Rob says Tyrone found out about the final relapse in November of 2003 while the two were at university (Tyrone at LSE and Rob at City) and “everything went quickly from there”.
For months Rob visited him at the Royal Free Hospital at least once a week.
But in May of the following year, when Rob went straight to surprise Tyrone with a visit after completing the final exam of his second year, he was shocked to find out his friend was gone.
He said: “He was always in room four, I remember this distinctly, with his name on it. But I saw there was no longer his name on the door.”
After speaking to staff on the main floor, they told him that Tyrone passed away the night before.
“That was the biggest shock of my life,” he said.
“And I had to drive home on my own knowing that news. That was really heart-breaking. It was the hardest way to find out.”
He added: “I wanted to go surprise him after my last exam. I went from a happy mood to really sad and devastated.”
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17 years later, Rob still regularly thinks about his friend.
After getting into running during lockdown, he decided he “wanted to turn a negative thing in my past that was really difficult and challenging to deal with into something positive” and signed up to the London Marathon.
On Sunday, October 3, Rob will be running the marathon and raising money for The Institute of Cancer Research in Tyrone’s memory.
“The mindset for me was if everyone thought like this then more can be done to improve treatment for this type of cancer,” he said.
“It might not seem like a couple of thousand is much but if more people do it that will have a massive impact.”
Tyrone has already raised more than £3,000. You can donate to his fundraiser here.
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