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.