Inside Bradley Lowery’s friendship with Jermain Defoe and his brave cancer battle that won the heart of the nation
JERMAIN Defoe and Bradley Lowery developed an unbreakable bond before the six-year-old’s death to cancer in 2017.
Their friendship ignited when terminally ill Bradley was made mascot for Sunderland’s Premier League clash at home to Everton in September 2016.
From there, their connection blossomed and the youngster became a household name across Britain.
Bradley, who hailed from Blackhall Coliery, Co Durham, was just 18 months old when he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2013.
An exceedingly rare cancer, it develops from specialised nerve cells called neuroblasts in the adrenal glands, neck, chest, or spinal cord.
Stemming from a baby’s development in the womb, it only affects around 100 children each year in the UK.
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Bradley underwent treatment for his cancer and had been in remission, but relapsed in 2016.
It was then the Defoe-mad youngster’s story got out and he quickly became a familiar face at the Stadium of Light alongside hero Defoe.
Well-wishers raised more than £700,000 in 2016 to pay for Bradley to be given antibody treatment in New York to help fight his cancer.
But his parents Carl and Gemma were later dealt the tragic news that his cancer had grown and become terminal.
Little Bradley underwent “tumour-shrinking treatment” at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary but the cancer continued to spread.
Nonetheless, Bradley continued his fight alongside “best mate” Defoe, who would visit the youngster regularly.
Heart-warming photos from February 2017 saw Defoe snuggled up alongside Bradley in bed surrounded by Sunderland merchandise.
After the visit, Defoe said: “As soon as I walked into the room, he jumped up and grabbed me and said: ‘Get in the bed!’
“He got the covers on me, he said to his mum: “Could you turn the lights off?” He just wanted a cuddle and to go to sleep.”
Propelled by Defoe’s devoted support, Bradley asked for as many Christmas cards as possible.
His wish was granted when truckloads of Royal Mail vans delivered an astonishing 280,000 cards and over 75 parcels containing gifts.
Sport stars such as Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka and even former Prime Minister Tony Blair sent cards.
By January 2017, Match of the Day’s awarded him joint goal of the month for his penalty against Chelsea’s Asmir Begović.
Bradley then went on to lead England out at Wembley alongside his hero Defoe in March 2017.
Then-skipper Joe Hart swapped places with Defoe in the tunnel so he and Bradley could take the first steps onto the field holding each other’s hands.
But in the months that followed, Bradley’s condition worsened and he was brought home in May 2017 to receive palliative care.
Defoe told talkSPORT at the time how he would text Bradley’s mum Gemma every day to check in on his little friend.
He said: “Every day I wake up and text his mum and ask how he’s getting on and she says ‘it’s OK’, but the reality is he’s struggling.
“She put something out on social media saying he’s got a few weeks to live and she messaged me and I didn’t know what to say.
“It was tough, I cant put in words how I felt.”
On July 7, 2017, Bradley passed away aged just six-year-old.
His death was confirmed on social media by his parents, who said: “My brave boy has went with the angels today.
“He was our little superhero and put the biggest fight up but he was needed else where. There are no words to describe how heart broken we are.”
Defoe said: “He was my best friend. He was genuine. He loved his football.
“He loved me and I loved him. There was nothing I could give him apart from just being a friend.”
In a statement Sunderland FC added: “He had a special relationship with Jermain Defoe and their feelings for each other were evident for all to see.
“Jermain, naturally, is heartbroken.”
A minute’s applause for the youngster went up just before the kick-off Sunderland’s friendly against Bury at Gigg Lane.
The Bradley Lowery Foundation was set up in Bradley’s memory, awareness for Neuroblastoma and childhood cancer.
By August 2017 the charity had raised over £1.3m.
In October 2018, Defoe got “Brads” inked onto his wrist in a lasting tribute to Bradley.
Bradley’s story has been thrown back into the limelight after a football thug taunted Sunderland fans with Bradley’s image.
Dale Houghton, 31, is alleged to have held up a phone with an image of Bradley following Sheffield Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat to Sunderland on Friday.
The cruel stunt, caught on camera at Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium and posted online, sparked fury among football fans.
Houghton, from Rotherham, is now due to appear at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court on Monday accused of a public order offence.
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