SOUTH Wales East AM Steffan Lewis has died.

The 34-year-old father-of-one was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in December 2017, but had continued to work through his treatment and regularly appeared in debates in the Senedd.

In a statement announcing his death, Mr Lewis' family said he died today at Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr in Ystrad Mynach.

South Wales Argus:

Steffan Lewis

He was married to Shona, father to Celyn, who is three, son and stepson to Gail and Neil and brother to Nia, Sian and Dylan.

In a statement his family said: “To lose Steff is the greatest possible blow to our family and we know that there are people throughout Wales who share our sense of loss.

“Steff inspired us every day.

“He was our rock, he was our anchor and most certainly, our hero. Above all Steffan was a loving husband, father, son and brother.

“Steff fought this disease with the same courage and determination that he applied to his politics, and even when he was in great pain and discomfort, he continued to serve the people he so dearly loved to represent.

“We will ensure that his legacy will live on forever – in our community, in our hearts and above all through his son, the little boy he adored, Celyn. Wales will not forget his contribution and his determination to make a difference to people’s lives.

"We would like to thank all those in NHS who cared for Steffan during his illness, and in particular the staff of Ystrad Fawr Hospital and his Oncologist, Dr Hilary Williams from Velindre Cancer Centre. "

South Wales Argus:

Steffan Lewis, with his sister Nia at a fundraising walk she organised for him last year. Picture: Chris Tinsley

Mr Lewis, who joined Plaid aged 11, had been seen as one of party’s rising stars, and had worked as Leanne Wood’s speechwriter during her leadership.

Elected to the Assembly in May 2016, at the time he was the youngest AM in the Senedd, a position which was later supplanted by Jack Sargeant when he was elected as AM for Alyn and Deeside in a by-election in February 2018 aged 23.

Born in Crosskeys, Mr Lewis remained true to his Valleys roots. His key campaigning issues included regeneration in the Valleys and perinatal metal health services. He also regularly spoke about concerns around the South Wales Metro, saying he was worried it would turn Valleys communities into “commuter towns”.

South Wales Argus:

Steffan Lewis speaking at Plaid Cymru's 1997 conference

Speaking to the Argus in 2017, Mr Lewis, who studied a degree in history, specialising in industrial history, at the University of Glamorgan, now part of the University of South Wales, said it was his upbringing which cemented his political beliefs.

“I come from a family where politics was discussed a lot,” he said “It was always there, but it was never something which felt like it was a natural, expected thing to do.”

He added: “I can still remember the coal wagons going down Gladstone Street in Crosskeys and the windows being filthy with the soot from the coal,” he said.

“And I remember the coal man coming and delivering coal to our house and that changing quite quickly, or it felt quite quickly, as I was growing up.

“At that time I began to wonder about industry and jobs and particularly about it being part of Wales’ makeup.”

Speaking to the Argus about his treatment last year, Mr Lewis had said he had first gone to his doctor after suffering severe stomach pains.

“I thought I was going to be told I had gallstones," he said. "After having tests and a scan, I was sat down with the consultant who broke the news that I had stage four bowel cancer.

“He said it had spread to my liver, lymph nodes and to my lung as well.

"To be told they weren’t optimistic of a cure was an enormous shock.

“I was 33 at the time.

"The last thing you think of when you’re a little unwell in your thirties is that it’s cancer.”

He was treated at Cardiff's Velindre Hospital, and in February last year had a close call when his liver started failing - but doctors were able to save him.

He said the support of his friends and family, particularly his wife Shona, had been invaluable during his treatment.

“Having friends and family around me has been crucial for externalising my journey,” he said.

“There was a big risk early on for me internalising things and I was concerned that was going to really affect me mentally.

"But I’ve got such a good network of family and friends which makes such a difference.”

South Wales Argus:

Steffan Lewis, pictured when he was elected as AM for South Wales East in May 2016

In July Mr Lewis' sister Nia arranged a fundraising walk in aid of Velindre as a birthday present for her brother - which raised more than £15,000.

And he said he gained a lot of strength from his son, Celyn, who he was writing a memoir for before he died.

“Celyn is full of life, a mischief-maker and I love him to pieces," he said.

"He is someone who I have become ever closer to.

"Even though he doesn’t understand I’m on a cancer journey, I think children are able to pick up that mammy and daddy need a cwtch and I certainly get plenty from him.”

Possibly his most significant contribution to Welsh politics was introducing the idea of a Welsh ‘continuity act’, which would have kept EU law over devolved areas such as farming and the environment in place in Wales post-Brexit.

The bill was introduced and passed through the Assembly in a matter of weeks in March. But it was repealed late last year after the Welsh Government came to an agreement with Whitehall which it claimed respected devolution – a claim which was called into question by Plaid Cymru.

Mr Lewis was elected on Plaid’s regional list for South Wales East, meaning his role will be automatically filled by the next person on the list – Delyth Jewell, who currently works as a women’s rights campaign specialist with charity Action Aid UK.

Speaking last year he said: “Even though the cancer inevitably dictates so much in my life, I’m going to keep on fighting it in terms of it not allowing it to diminish who I am, my personality and what makes me, me.

“A great part of my identity is being a politician. I love being a parliamentarian and it’s an honour to serve in the National Assembly. Doing what I love is a demonstration that I’m still Steffan Lewis, and I’m still in charge of my own identity.”

South Wales Argus:

Steffan Lewis, with then-Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood in 2015. Picture: Plaid Cymru

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Tributes to Steffan Lewis have flooded in from across the political spectrum.

First minister Mark Drakeford said: “I would like to express my own deep and personal sorrow at the loss of Steffan Lewis AM, one of the most decent and able politicians of his generation.

"My thoughts and sympathies are with his wife Shona and young son Celyn at this incredibly difficult time.”

And Plaid leader Adam Price said: “My heartfelt condolences go out to Steffan’s family at this tragic time.

“Steffan was beloved by his friends in Plaid Cymru and we are in a state of shock and grief at losing our very brightest star.

“He will be remembered as a politician of rare talent who achieved an incredible amount during his time in elected office, which has been cut short in such harrowing circumstances.

“His powers of reasoning and intellect were matched only by his capacity for compassion – even while suffering illness, Steffan persisted in prioritising the welfare of other people by speaking openly about his difficult experiences while all the time continuing to work on behalf of his nation and constituents.

“I cannot begin to express our sense of loss and how much we will miss having Steffan in our lives. His legacy will forever be remembered in the history of Plaid Cymru and the Welsh nation."

He added: “Steffan first addressed a Plaid Cymru conference at the age of 14. It was clear at that point that this was somebody that was going to have a big impact on the life of the nation.

“From that moment, Steffan devoted his life to his dream of a free and independent Wales. In our last conversation this week, he shared with me his confidence that his dream would be realised and urged us to do all that we can to bring the day closer.

“Steffan dedicated his working life to the task of helping others and was able to do so with exceptional ability due to his astonishing breadth of talents.

“From campaigning on behalf of former miners’ pension rights to saving health services in his region, everybody knew that Steffan was a formidable representative to have on their side who would never let them down."

Mr Price continued: “He was popular among all sections of society and across party lines, a fact that was underlined when Carwyn Jones was asked to name the political opponent he most respected in an interview around the time he left his post as first minister. His answer: ‘Steffan Lewis’.

“I am told that hundreds of people contacted Steffan after watching, hearing or reading one of his interviews in which he discussed the mental and emotional challenge of dealing with a serious illness.

“Even though it was extremely difficult for him to talk about his illness while going through immense personal hardship, he was adamant that he had a duty to use his experience for the benefit of others.

“He touched the lives of so many people in such a positive and life-affirming way. That will guarantee both his political and personal legacy. They will endure in the memory of the nation and beyond for countless years to come.”

Assembly presiding officer Elin Jones said: “I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of my friend and colleague Steffan Lewis.

"Steffan showed great dedication and courage in continuing to serve the people of South Wales East throughout his difficult illness.

"His determination to serve and work hard to improve the lives of the people of Wales earnt him respect from across the political divide, within the Senedd and further afield.

"I cannot recall another AM who was as proud as Steffan to have been elected to his national parliament. That his term of office was cut so short is a tragic loss for us all.

"I shall miss his friendship and his passion for Wales and his party.

"On behalf of all the Members and those who work at the National Assembly for Wales, I would like to express my deepest sympathy to his family, colleagues and constituents.”

Flags have been lowered on all Welsh Assembly buildings as a mark of respect.