Sam Wakefield: Fundraising hero

Sam Wakefield: Fundraising hero

Running 100 kilometres to raise money for medical science is just the beginning for this powerfully driven cancer survivor.

A great deal has changed for Sam Wakefield since surgeons removed a malignant tumour – an anaplastic astrocytoma – from his brain. Interestingly, very little of that change has to do with the medical side of his journey.

The medical challenges were great, to be sure. An operation on the right frontal cortex of his brain at the age of 17 left the teenager needing to re-learn simple skills such as walking, doing up his shoes and eating with cutlery. And the following 18 months of treatment, including radiotherapy and chemotherapy, left him feeling “completely crook”.

More important, he says, is the change in attitude and purpose he has discovered since he was a cancer patient.

“When I was 17, I was the epitome of wasted potential,” Sam, now 22, says. “I got good marks in school, but I didn’t try. I was just going through the motions and floating through life.”

“When I had the cancer experience, I decided I wasn’t going to waste my life. I decided that if I was going to get a chance that not a lot of people get, and since I’d been given the opportunity to peek behind the curtain of mortality, I was going to take life by the horns and do as much as I could. Now, I’ve become very bad at quitting!”

Part of that involved changing his career goals to something that better reflected his newfound passions. Originally planning to go into law, Sam is now studying a Bachelor of Health Science, with the goal of transferring to Medicine next year.

“I’d rather use my experience to help people who are going through a similar experience,” he says.

“I decided on Medicine because I could empathise with people, bring a different perspective to their experience and understand how it feels to be sitting across the table from someone telling you that your life has forever changed, and you haven’t got much control over it.”

In his career, science will drive every decision. But that’s not why he chose to fundraise for The Kids’ Cancer Project during his recent, heroic, 100-kilometre run.

Running for medical research

In early 2020, Sam was planning to run a half marathon. But as the Covid pandemic caused the cancellation of mass participation events across Australia, that plan was scuttled.

Then, an interview he heard on a podcast gave him an idea. Retired US Navy SEAL David Goggins was discussing how he raised money by running 100 miles in one day.

“I knew I couldn’t run 100 miles in one day, but 100 kilometres had a nice ring to it,” Sam says. “Then I just had to figure out who to raise money for.”

He’d previously fundraised for Love For Lachie, which supported childhood brain cancer research. They recommended he contact The Kids’ Cancer Project. At the same time, he considered the purpose of the funds he’d be raising.

“I first looked around at charities that make life easier for dying kids, but that means there’s no other option,” he says. 

“I wanted to support something that means never having to have that conversation again. When you’re eight years old you should never have to be told that we can’t offer you anything else. You should never have to be told that the next 80 years are being taken from you because we’ve run out of options.”

“I’d been the first person in Tasmania screened for a new immunotherapy treatment option. Unfortunately, it didn’t work on my kind of tumour, so I wasn’t viable for the treatment. But it showed me how medical research creates new options and better treatments. That’s why I reached out to The Kids’ Cancer Project.”

Recovering from the long run

Sam set his original fundraising goal at $2,500, but his loyal supporters pushed him past $4,000 before he even began the run. Now it’s all over, he has raised over $6,100 to support vital medical research.

So how was the experience of a 100-kilometre run? Sadly, one month later, Sam also now feels like he’s a fundraiser for his physiotherapist!

“Normally, if you’re not an idiot like me, it should take about a week to recover from a 100-kilometre run,” he smiles. 

“But quite early in the run I hurt my knee and my ankle, and I kept running. I didn’t realise I’d partially torn my PCL and torn a ligament in my ankle. So, it has been just over a month since the run and I still can’t run for another eight weeks. In total, I’ll be on the sideline for 12 to 14 weeks. So, my physio hates me at the moment, but it was worth it for the science!”

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