Brave Tony Hopper has spoken of his heartfelt gratitude to everyone who has rallied around him after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease and said: “You’ve made me proud to be Cumbrian.”
The former footballer, 40, has opened his heart about the extraordinary goodwill he has received since the devastating news of his condition was made public.
An online fundraising page has already raised more than £21,000 to help Tony and his wife Sue create some lasting memories with their three sons, including a dream trip to Disneyland.
And Tony, a popular player for Carlisle United and Workington Reds, said that he has been deeply touched by the way the community has responded.
“One of the reasons we wanted to talk is that there have been so many donations and messages, we could never get round and say thank-you to every one of them,” he said.
“We really, really are so grateful, and feel special. It makes me proud to be Cumbrian. It’s really humbling.”
In an emotional interview, the Hoppers, who live in Brampton, described how they are still trying to come to terms with Tony’s illness, a life-limiting condition which has an average prognosis of two to three years from the onset of symptoms.
Tony said a slight slurring of speech last spring, followed by a weakness in the grip of one of his hands, were the first signs that something was wrong.
After seeing his doctor, and then a neurologist, he was diagnosed last month, since when the Hoppers have received invaluable support from friends, family and organisations like the Eden Valley Hospice, the Motor Neurone Disease Association and Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.
The hospice, they said, helped advise them on how to break the news to their boys – Jack, four, Adam, seven, and nine-year-old Daniel.
“Wendy Ashton from Eden Valley sat us down and advised us how to word it, and how far to go,” Tony said.
“Daniel has been made aware of a little more than the younger two. He has been reading all the messages we’ve had, and he’s read what’s been in the paper. Later we’ll be thinking about involving them in things we do for charity.”
Tony also said he was touched to be invited to be guest of honour, and his sons mascots, at Carlisle United’s home game against Portsmouth next weekend.
It follows the difficult decision to go public with his condition – bulbar-onset motor neurone disease – with the launch of their gofundme page last Monday night.
Tony said: “From the moment we started letting our closest family and friends know, everyone was so supportive, asking what they could do for us. So we thought we had better start to think about setting something up.
“It took us a while to get to this point, and there will never be a right time to accept it.
“But we just felt that, with it having been four weeks now, this was maybe the time.”
Tony and Sue said their focus now is on creating as many happy memories as possible as a family.
“It’s a negative time in our lives, there’s no denying it and it’s always going to be bitter-sweet,” Sue said.
“But from the kids’ point of view, it has turned into a positive. They are excited about the things they are going to be able to do. And all those people who have donated have made that possible.”