The family of a young man who wrote movingly of coping with terminal cancer against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic have told of taking comfort from the huge response to his articles, after he died on Monday.
Elliot Dallen, 31, died hours after the Guardian published the second of two articles by him in which he reflected on his life and shared the lessons which he had learned.
Members of his close family took turns to read him some of the comments made by readers underneath the online piece, in which he wrote of having just weeks to live.
In a first piece published in April, Dallen had written of the moment last summer when his oncologist broke the news that the treatment which he had been undergoing was not working and that he would be lucky to have another year.
The young charted accountant had been diagnosed with adrenocortical carcinoma, an extremely rare and aggressive cancer, in his late 20s and had been undergoing chemotherapy.
“I’m taking each day as it comes,” he wrote in the piece, in which he spoke of spending quality time with his family and planning to have conversations with friends so that “nothing is left unsaid”.
In the second piece, which expanded on his worldview, he wrote: “Because I’ve had time to think about the things that are really important to me, and I want to share what I’ve discovered.”
They included urging others to recognise the importance of gratitude, be vulnerable and connect to others, and protect the planet.
His sister, Annabel, told the Guardian: “Because of the timing of things, it meant that people from across the world were wishing Elliot well as he was going, which is a quite a nice thing to think.
“It really does bring us comfort and we are incredibly touched by what people have said in the comments they posted under the article.”
She added that he didn’t log on to read the second article, but was very much aware of the response it had generated.
“He definitely smiled and while he didn’t have the energy that he had when the first article appeared, which really gave him a special buzz and excitement, you could tell there was a sparkle in his eye.
“In the final days leading up to his death, Elliot had communicated that he was so, so happy with his life and that he was at peace and felt ready to die.”
Originally from Wales, Dallen had joined Barclays in 2017 after graduating from the University of Exeter and was living in London, where he had a shared flat with his sister since his diagnosis.
She told how he had started writing when he first had been diagnosed with cancer, motivated by the practicality of being able to update his friends and loved ones.
“That’s how it started, but then he found it quite therapeutic,” she said. While she believed that he may have shown a draft to a friend, he had kept his first article in the Guardian as a surprise to many, mentioning only to his mother in a text message that “something might be coming out” on a website.
In the last article, he wrote of his astonishment at the number of people who had responded, adding: “I now find myself in a position where people are asking me how they can help or what they can do that would make me happy. Apart from the obvious – looking after each other once I’ve gone – I’m going to push for people to give, be that money or time.”