SHARING a loving moment with the woman he hoped to marry, Steven McDermott looks the picture of health and happiness.
But just months after this photograph was taken, doctors gave the 34-year-old the devastating news that he was suffering from a rare form of cancer.
The diagnosis shattered his dream of setting up home with Romanian-born girlfriend Raluca Mihai.
Today, Raluca, 29, and Steven’s family paid tribute to a “true inspiration” after he lost his battle with Leiomyosarcoma, spending his final moments surrounded by loved ones at his Moorside home.
“He was the best person I ever met,” said Raluca. “He was amazing.”
His mum June said his death has devastated everyone who knew him.
“Everything was going perfect in his life,” she said. “He had met the love of his life, they were planning a wonderful future together.
“She was moving up from London to Wearside and they hoped to marry.
“They had been seeing each other for about three years, but Steven always said that when he met her for the first time it was as if they had known each other all of their lives.
“They were so much in love. Everybody would say what a sweet couple they were.
“The cancer was such a cruel blow.
“Raluca had just arrived at the house at the house and he said ‘Hi babe, how are you?’.”
“Moments later, he drifted off into a sleep and he never woke up.”
But despite his painful ordeal, Steven remained brave until the end, enduring a major operation and weeks of punishing chemotherapy.
“He remained so positive throughout everything,” said June, 65. “He was always more concerned about me and his dad than himself.
“He never complained or moaned about things, he just tried to make the best of everything. He had such a wonderful outlook.”
Engineer Steven was originally diagnosed with Leiomyosarcoma, which affects about four in a million people, in 2001.
His brother David, 37, who works at Nissan, in Washington, said: “He was suffering from pain in his left shoulder and noticed a bit of a lump there so he went to his GP, who sent him for a scan straight away.
“At first, he had no idea what it was. He thought he had overworked it at the gym, but the pain didn’t subside and it got worse and worse.
“The news came completely out of the blue.
“There was no history of cancer in the family and up until then he had no heath problems at all.”
Steven, a former pupil at Farringdon Comprehensive School, underwent a major operation, radiotherapy and physiotherapy at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
“The surgeons removed the tumour, surrounding muscle and part of his shoulder and he responded well to his treatment,” said David. “He had physiotherapy to regain the movement in his arm and, by the end of it, he was playing football and going for runs.”
However, the aggressive cancer returned to his chest in 2009, less than a year after he completed the Great North Run in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care.
He was training for the next race when he bagan to suffer from fatigue and breathing problems.
Despite another major operation and treatment at the Freeman Hospital, in Newcastle, traces of the tumour remained.
“He underwent another operation to remove the tumour, but there were little bits in two or three areas where the doctors couldn’t get to without compromising his life,” said David. “He continued his treatment, but the cancer didn’t shrink.
“He was very frail and the doctors said any more chaemotherapy could kill him, so they stopped it.”
Steven’s family - including brother Neil, 40, and dad Peter, 68 - thanked friends, medics and colleagues at firm Connor Solutions, Rainton Bridge, who supported him in the months leading up to his death on April 10.
Up to 200 mourners attended a funeral service at Sunderland Crematorium.
“We want to thank everyone who supported us,” added David. “The hospital staff and the company he worked for were brilliant.”