Childhood spent caring for his brother earns Josh an award

Joshua Marshall with his mother, Tracey
Joshua Marshall with his mother, Tracey
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Today, 14-year-old Josh Higgon has been named Yorkshire’s Family Hero 2012. Catherine Scott finds out why the teenager deserves the award.

Much of Josh Higgon’s teenage years so far have been dominated by cancer.

When he was 10 his four-year-old brother Jack Marshall was diagnosed with a brain tumour, devastating his family, especially mother Tracey, father Craig and big brother Josh.

Through his two-year battle with the disease football-mad Jack became something of a celebrity as he launched an online campaign to raise awareness of brain tumours in children.

He got nearly 100,000 followers on Twitter, known as Jack’s Army, and 10,000 Facebook friends, some of them premiership footballers from his beloved Manchester United.

And he got to meet some of his favourite stars, including Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Serena Williams and Jack Wilshere, after his parents were told he had days to live. The little battler in fact lived for a further six months, giving his family some irreplaceable memories and smiling through no matter what.

“When we took Jack home from Sheffield Children’s Hospital and they said he could pass away within days we made a decision to try to do as much as possible in the time we had left with him. Not just for Jack but for all of us. Jack got to meet a lot of his heroes and no one can take those memories away from us,” says Tracey.

Throughout all this Josh, now 14, was at his side. Often in the background, but always a huge support to his parents and little brother.

Throughout Jack’s battle with the disease, Josh was a constant source of support while also helping his parents and continuing to go to school like any other teenager.

“Josh lit up Jack’s world and was always there to love him and make him laugh,” says Tracey. “Josh used to love Ronaldo, and I used to say that Jack looked up to Josh like he did Ronaldo. They did have their moments like all brothers, but they were the best of friends.”

While showing immense maturity in dealing with the realities of cancer and its treatment and despite his own grief, Josh continued to provide comfort and support to others around him when Jack sadly passed away last year aged six.

At his funeral, which was attended by 200 people, including Arsenal and England star Jack Wilshere, Josh paid this tribute: “I am so proud that my little brother has helped make people think differently and given people courage. He is an inspiration. And he will continue to raise awareness of brain tumours to help others.

“Jack is my little brother and I will love him to the moon and back forever and ever.”

Josh also pledged to continue the work his little brother had started in setting up Jack’s Fund which is raising awareness of brain tumours in children.

“We set up the fund initially to help pay for things that Jack might need. But then we realised it was a great way to get the message out there,” explains Tracey. “Social media has been amazing. We wouldn’t have been able to do the things we did with Jack without it. It also really helped Jack, especially Twitter.”

After Jack’s death Twitter was flooded with messages from the likes of Wayne Rooney and Sir Alex Ferguson paying tribute to the little boy. And now Josh from Scunthorpe has been honoured for the help and support he has shown his family by being crowned Yorkshire’s Family Hero at the 4Children and Take a Break magazine UK Family Heroes Awards 2012.

4Children and Take a Break magazine launched The Family Heroes Awards in 2011 to find Britain’s greatest heroes, those selfless people who, every day, go that extra mile to make life better for others.

Winners were selected from 11 UK regions with one regional winner being crowned overall National Family Hero.

Josh received his award at a black tie gala dinner in London hosted by Magic FM DJ, Neil Fox and TV and radio presenter Emma Forbes.

On receiving his award, Josh said: “It means a lot because I know that my brother would be proud of me.

“My brother has been my source of strength because every day he would wake up and say that he was fine, when he was battling with his condition, and that would help me get through my day.

“He is an inspiration to me and my whole family. I’d like to carry on with my work raising awareness about brain tumours, and I’d also like get good grades in school.”

Naomi Measures, a friend of Josh’s said: “Josh had to deal with the fact that his little brother was dying yet he was able to do so and be a comfort and help to others around him. He shows us the way – and reminds us that age is just a number when it comes to courage and kindness.”

Neil Fox, broadcaster and Magic FM’s breakfast host, said:“In the years that I have been involved with these wonderful awards, I have never failed to be moved to tears listening to the incredible stories of our award winners. Whether it’s in the home helping family members, or whether it’s raising thousands of pounds to help hospitals give the best care, each one of these people has helped to make this country a better place to live.”

Emma Forbes said: “As a mother of two I know that 
family life can often throw up 
all kinds of unexpected challenges. At times like these, having someone around to share the load can make all the difference between families coming through difficult times stronger or falling apart.

“Joshua is one of those incredible people whose selfless actions have been worth their weight in gold to others. I’m delighted to be part of these awards which give family heroes like Joshua the recognition they truly deserve.”

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said: “There is so much unrecognised goodwill out there of people who do so much for others. Joshua and the inspiring winners of the Family Heroes Awards remind us how important it is for us all to do our utmost to make a difference in the lives of others.”

“We are so proud of Josh,” says Tracey. “He has seen things that a teenager should never have to see and yet he has done so bravely. He has cried when he needed to cry and has sometimes had to take a back seat.

“He misses Jack, like we all do. It is hard at this time of year, but the build up is worse. Christmas Day is just another day without Jack. But Josh is doing well at school and we are so proud of him and believe he really does deserve this award.”

More boys have brain tumours

Most brain tumours are named after the type of cells from which they develop. Jack suffered from Medulloblastomas – malignant tumours formed from poorly developed cells at a very early stage of their life. They develop in the cerebellum in a part of the brain called the posterior fossa, but may spread to other parts of the brain. Medullblastomas are more common in children, particularly between the ages of three and eight.

They make up about one in five of all childhood brain tumours, about 70 cases each year in the UK. The tumour is more common in boys than girls. They can also occur in adults although this is extremely rare.

The cause is unknown.