People

Published: January 31, 2021 | Updated: February 1, 2021

“A true entrepreneur who inspired so many people” – tributes paid to a business legend

By Andrew Diprose, editor

The world of business – and Dorset business in particular – is a much, much poorer place.

Truly inspirational entrepreneur, and five-time cancer warrior, Damien Lee, Founder of Mr Lee’s Noodles, passed away on January 28.

He was 54 and leaves a wife, Weronika, and two sons.

A statement posted on the company’s social media said:

“It is with a collective sad and heavy heart that we, Mr Lee’s Family, relay the passing away of our founder Damien, after battling fiercely and so courageously though the challenges of cancer over the last 6 years.

“Damien’s energy, enthusiasm, creativity, his twinkling rebelliousness and deeply caring nature are an entrenched inspiration to us all.

“His view and mission by Mr Lee’s to help people to be more healthy through eating better has never been more relevant and motivating.

“We are deeply committed to fulfil what he began.”

Among the first to pay tribute to Damien was Sunny Bird, Founder of Sunny Bird PR, pictured left.

She said: “It is truly heartbreaking news to hear of the passing of our client and our friend Damien Lee.

“He was (and will continue to be) a true inspiration.

“We feel so privileged to have worked alongside him and witness his incredible energy and enthusiasm for everything he touched.

“Personally, I was inspired by his positivity, determination and zest for life.

“Damien’s sparkle will be deeply missed but I am certain his legacy will live on.

“A true entrepreneur who inspired so many people.

“I feel honoured to have known him and my sincerest condolences are with Damien’s family, his wife Weronika, his two gorgeous boys, and his amazing team and friends.”

Other tributes to Damien from friends and business colleagues included:

  • “I loved working with Damien at Mr Lee’s. Such an awesome guy with vision, enthusiasm and inspiration! I will miss him immensely” – Barbara Cox, BC Nutrition
  • “Devastating news. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family. He leaves a great legacy” – Luke English. Luke English Media Law
  • “What an inspiration, a true fighter. The world has lost a star” – Heather Williams, Azets

Originally from Sydney, Australia, Damien won admirers and followers worldwide for his constantly upbeat and positive attitude in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.

In 2014, he was diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkin lymphoma which started in his chest, and then spread to his stomach.

He later said: “I had been suffering from persistent back pain for a year but had been told it was just a muscle issue by my GP.

“It was only after a second X-ray that showed the disease had eaten away three of my ribs, as well as another three that had been half eaten, that I got my diagnosis.

“I was told I only had weeks to live and to start chemotherapy could be pointless due to the late stage of my cancer.

“It was then that I thought, wow, this could be it.”

Undeterred, Damien chose to undergo the chemo as well as drastically transform his lifestyle to a more holistic and health focused way of living.

He said: “I knew that if I wanted to get through this, I not only needed to take the chemo available, but I also needed to change my lifestyle.

“As a time-poor entrepreneur, I used to take a lot of shortcuts with my diet.

“When you’re running around, you tend to eat quick, easy, and often unhealthy meals, with my go-to often being instant noodles.

“Being half Singaporean, I’ve grown up eating a lot of noodles.

“They were convenient and tasted…well, okay enough to eat,” he said.

Against all odds, and after a year of healthy eating, and chemo, Damien conquered his stage four cancer and was in complete remission.

His new lifestyle, coupled with his previous love of instant noodles, spurred the businessman to start his own healthy noodle brand.

Bournemouth-based Mr Lee’s Noodles launched in 2016 as a natural instant noodle with the finest quality ingredients and what it described as ‘absolutely no nasties’.

Damien continued to grow the Mr Lee’s brand in the years to come, launching in multiple continents such as Europe, Australasia, and most recently the USA.

He picked up many awards, including UK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year, and also received rave reviews after appearing on Channel 5’s Rich House Poor House, swapping his life with single mum Larissa.

The programme gave an insight into Damien’s entrepreneurial life as well as his day to day battle with cancer.

The disease returned in 2017 when he was diagnosed with cancer of the neck and throat which was completely unrelated to the Non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis.

It then spread to his pelvic bones and his cancer was declared terminal with Damien predicted to live for only a few more months.

He underwent treatment of radiotherapy and neck surgery which at the time was successful.

However, in January 2019 Damien discovered it had come back.

Last year, he said: “To date I have undergone 78 treatments for my cancer, from chemotherapy to radiotherapy as well as multiple surgeries.

“After the cancer metastasized last year, it has now spread even further throughout my body into my chest and stomach.

“The hospital were going to give me ten doses of radiotherapy to make me ‘comfortable’ but I said hell no!

“I’m fighting this thing and they upped it to 15.

“To try and stop the spread I started a course of chemo in April this year which was then put on hold due to Covid.

“I was of course frustrated and upset, but I also understand the pressures the NHS are under due to the pandemic.

“I saw first-hand the shortages in the NHS and the nurses who were struggling to find something nourishing to eat during their long shifts, and I thought it was only right to try and do my bit.

“So we decided to donate thousands of noodles to hospitals all over the UK to feed the overworked doctors and nurses who need healthy sustenance to keep them going.”

In September 2020, Damien received the devastating results that his recent chemotherapy treatment had not worked.

His body had received such enormous amounts of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment over the last six years that it simply would not survive any further treatments.

It meant that there were only a few limited treatment options left available to him.

He said: “I’m not going to stop trying to cure my cancer, I want to at least live with it long enough to see my boys graduate from university and get married.

“I recently took a test to see if I would be a candidate for an immunotherapy trial.

“The results came back negative. However, I was accepted anyway as it really is my last shot.

“I’ve started treatment and, if all goes well, I will be part of this trial and treatment plan for two years.”

Tragically it was not to be.