George is pictured here aged 22 in December 1997 at the end of his first term at Lancaster University, after transferring to second year from Sheffield University.
George was almost at the end of his first undergraduate year and studying Geography and Sociology when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in May 1995. He died just under four years later in March 1999. George was the middle of three sons of Geoff and Helen Easton. His older brother, Jonathan was also a student at the time of the diagnosis and David was aged eleven and in his last year at primary school.
Until the last few days of George's life he continued to believe that he would recover from the cancer through sheer will power and determination. Nevertheless he made sure that he packed as much as possible into the time he had available - just in case. He transferred his studies to Lancaster University knowing that he needed the support of home as he went through aggressive chemotherapy and major surgery. For much of the time his stamina and energy levels were drained by the treatments but he worked incredibly hard to re-learn how to play golf, cycle and swim with an artificial knee and a titanium prosthesis in his right leg. He joined the Lancaster University Swimming Club in 1997 but never told anyone why he had scars down his chest and his leg. He swam exceedingly well in spite of having undergone lung surgery only months previously and was sure that none of the other students knew that he was ill.
When the lung metastases recurred the following Spring but this time did not respond to treatment he planned a cycle ride from Lands End to John O'Groats and trained for it by cycling Coast to Coast with a school friend who was recovering from cancer. He managed 400 miles in six days before becoming too tired to continue-but always planned to finish when he felt stronger. His younger brother, David, did it for him eighteen months after George's death and in the process raised money to help fund research for the George Easton Memorial Trust.
Supporting George through his struggle for normality and independence was an enormous challenge. Young adults are usually determined to become less dependent on their families, not more, and George was no different. Knowing when to help and when to stand back was very hard and at the time his parents felt that they would have benefited greatly from knowing how other families coped. When George asked his mum, 'what are you going to do when all this is over?' a few days before he died and in reply to her request for suggestions said that he would like her to 'do something to help other people in the same situation' there was no alternative but to try. As a hospital social worker married to an academic the area in which George's parents felt most confident was social research and the gathering and providing of information.
The George Easton Memorial Trust
The George Easton Memorial Trust was set up as a charity in 1999 as a memorial to George. The charity was closed down in February 2017 after having achieved its research objectives. These were to add to the body of knowledge about what it is like to be a young adult with cancer and the impact on the families who care for the young people. This award winning research has informed policy and practice with this age group in the UK and internationally.
Information from the George Easton Memorial Trust website has been archived by Lancaster University as a resource to provide information for anyone affected by cancer in a teenager or young adults. Click here to visit the resource, which contains personal stories written by parents who have accompanied their adolescent/young adult son or daughter along the roller coaster of the cancer journey.
The Trustees of the charity kindly agreed to divide the remaining funds between four charities working in similar fields, with the largest share going to the Bone Cancer Research Trust in acknowledgement of the fact that George himself died from osteosarcoma.
Dr Anne Grinyer
Dr Anne Grinyer, senior lecturer in the Institute for Health Research at Lancaster University, has undertaken important research on various aspects of cancer in young adults for the George Easton Memorial Trust.
The output of Anne’s research has been widely disseminated through publications and conference presentations; the aim being to inform health professionals about the distinct nature of the needs of the age group, to contribute to the understanding of the issues and offer support to both parents and young people facing cancer at this time of life. You can read more about her research here.