Beloved rugby-mad brother Kieran Bowes (21) battled his cancer to the very end
The family of a young rugby player who lost a battle with cancer have told how he fought right to the end.
Kieran Bowes (21), from Ballymena, passed away peacefully at home after a 16-month fight against Hodgkin's lymphoma.
His mum Janet, dad Sean and brothers Jarrad and Curtis have been left heartbroken, but said they were proud that he fought so bravely.
Yesterday Jarrad (24) said: "He was just such a great lad. I don't think anyone ever had a bad word to say about him. He was always up for doing anything.
"Everyone doted on him. He had this charm about him where he would wind someone up but they'd still love him to pieces."
Twins Kieran and Curtis and their older brother had a very close relationship and loved playing rugby together.
Jarrad said that Kieran was always looking out for them both.
"He was the kind of brother that always thought about others first," he added. "When I was at uni, if I ran out of money, he'd send me an extra £20 to make sure I could go out with my mates. He wanted to live life to the full, but he wanted others to as well."
Kieran was diagnosed in 2014, just weeks after he had started his second year at university in England. He died on Sunday.
The rugby fan was studying sports science at the University of Central Lancashire.
He had been feeling rundown for a few months and had some back pain. In October he went to a doctor who thought he had anaemia and told him he would need a blood transfusion.
He had planned a weekend at home to surprise his mum and decided he would get the treatment when he got back, but his mum had to rush him to hospital.
A few days later he was diagnosed with the cancer of the lymphatic system - a network of vessels and glands throughout the body.
He was forced to put his studies on hold and to give up playing the sport he had loved since he was seven.
He had played on the Cambridge House 2010 Medallion XV team and was a regular at Ballymena Rugby Club, where he played alongside Curtis.
Although he was fighting for his life, Jarrad said Kieran faced it head-on and was determined to get back on the pitch.
He added: "He was a proper soldier. He battled on and wasn't selfish about it. There have been so many legends that have died recently, but in my eyes Kieran is the biggest of them all."
Just months before he died Kieran climbed Slemish Mountain with some friends and raced them to the top. "After he was diagnosed, he was determined just to get on with it", Jarrad added. "He loved to still go out and do things with his mates. He never let it put him down and when something didn't work, he just looked for the next thing. Even when he was told it was terminal he didn't flinch. He just took it on the chin. I've never seen a person who was so strong like that. He never gave up, even at the end."
The family are now preparing to say goodbye tomorrow afternoon. A funeral service will be held in Stevenson's Funeral Home, Ballymena, at 2pm.
After his funeral the family plan to bring him back to the rugby club one last time and the players will form a guard of honour.
Jarrad said: "I think that would have meant a lot to him and that moment will hit me the hardest. The rugby club has been such a big part of our life and it was something that we all got to do together, so we'll take him there once more."
The family were inundated with messages of support throughout Kieran's illness, and just before Christmas he received a much needed boost when two of his heroes - Ulster Rugby players Andrew Trimble and Darren Cave - visited him in hospital.
"That visit meant a lot. He wasn't doing great and the lads came and really picked him up," Jarrad said.
Kieran's friends from across Northern Ireland and Britain have flooded social media with tributes after his death at the weekend.
Nikita Warren posted: "RIP Kieran Bowes, so shocked to write this. You were a genuine, lovely guy, far too young to be taken. God only takes the best and you were definitely one of the best. You had a heart of gold, what an absolute inspiration you are, you'll be sorely missed." Michael McAteer added: "Today is a very sad day, Kieran it was a pleasure knowing you. I cannot believe how positive you were throughout your battle with cancer. You were a pleasure to know and I will miss you like everyone you knew will miss you. A very well mannered, honourable person gone before their time."
Jarrad said: "It's so overwhelming to see how many people he actually touched. He's had such a big impact on everyone.
"He's going to be missed by so many people."