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Fundraiser sets out on 20 Walks Challenge – to mark 20 years since his brain tumour diagnosis

Tom’s story Tom Sanderson, 35, has set himself a year-long charity walking challenge. This is to mark the 20th year since his brain tumour diagnosis.  His next walk will be…

Tom Sanderson with a group from the Brain Tumour Charity standing by a river during a charity walking challenge

Tom’s story

Tom Sanderson, 35, has set himself a year-long charity walking challenge. This is to mark the 20th year since his brain tumour diagnosis.  His next walk will be at Kielder Water, on Saturday March 18th.   

Tom, who grew up in Northumberland, is taking on 20 walks across the UK and Ireland. He’ll use these to shine a light on brain tumours, and raise awareness of brain tumour symptoms.  

Tom was 16 and at boarding school in Scotland when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. But, he had been experiencing symptoms for about twelve months before that.  The headaches, sickness, fainting and inability to concentrate were put down to teenage anxiety. But, things reached a dramatic crisis when he was at home near Morpeth, Northumberland, for the Christmas holidays.  

Tom said: “Medical professionals believed that I was a typical teenager struggling with stress from exams.  At the time it was quite hard to be dropped down academic sets and made to study alone as I was embarrassed by it and unable to control the situation. This made me feel isolated, which was very difficult.

“I don’t remember anything about the build up to my diagnosis but understand that I had been unwell for a few weeks beforehand. On the first day of holidays I collapsed whilst with my sister and mum. They rang 999 and when the ambulance arrived they quickly took me into the nearest hospital for an MRI scan which showed that I had severe hydrocephalus and a tumour on my brain stem.”

Tom was put into an induced coma and underwent emergency surgery, which revealed he had a Grade one Astrocytoma.  Then began the long road to recovery. 

An epic charity walking challenge

Two decades since his own symptoms were initially missed, Tom is using his charity walking challenge to champion The Brain Tumour Charity’s ‘Better Safe Than Tumour’ campaign. This is to support the public to recognise the possible signs and to get any concerning or persistent symptoms checked out by a doctor.  

Tom said: “Better Safe Than Tumour is an unbelievably important campaign.  It’s vital to raise awareness of early warning signs of brain tumours as they can often present as a minor illness, but if someone is experiencing two or more of the common symptoms it is so important to get in front of a medical professional for advice.

“Someone said to me recently that diagnosis and treatment of brain tumours must have evolved a lot in the twenty years since my experience. Sadly I don’t think too much has changed. One of my best friends was diagnosed with a brain tumour about ten years ago and went through a very similar experience to me.

 “Awareness is rising, but there is so much more to be done. The treatment for this condition remains incredibly intrusive and life changing and there needs to be more research and investigation into the treatment and rehabilitation of the condition. “

Tom’s year-long walking challenge was born out of a desire to mark the twenty years since his brain tumour diagnosis, and celebrate with friends and family how far he has come.  His programme of walks for 2023 ranges across the whole UK – from the Dorset coast to his Northumberland roots.  

Tom said:“I know how fortunate I am to have recovered as well as I have done. As the years have gone by I have raised money for various charities but this year feels like such an important anniversary to mark. Anything I can do to help raise awareness is important to me.

 “I absolutely love hiking with my wife Lucy, and find that when we are out in the countryside is when we connect best and have our most special times together.

 “We’re doing these all over the UK and whilst we of course have a fundraising goal, our number one priority is to encourage other people to join in on the walks and raise awareness. We’ve done five now and each one has been so special, with more and more people joining. There’s one in Northumberland at the end of April that I am particularly excited about – I think we could end up with about forty people joining us, followed by a celebration at the Craster Arms in Beadnell.
Tom and Lucy wearing The Brain Tumour Charity hoodies standing in front of the Thames in London while on a charity walking challenge

“We need to be grateful for every moment and make the most of the time we have.  I was so lucky to survive and will fight the cause forever.”

 With five walks already completed, Tom is progressing well towards his fundraising target of £5,000.  

Firzana Khan, Community Fundraiser at The Brain Tumour Charity, said:

 “We are inspired by the scale of Tom’s challenge and thank him sincerely for his support.

 “Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of the under 40s and, unlike other cancers, survival rates have not improved over the last 40 years.

 “We are leading the way in changing this and truly fighting brain tumours on all fronts through our work.

 “It’s through the efforts of people like Tom and his family that we can change these shocking statistics in the future and bring hope to the thousands of people who are diagnosed with a brain tumour every year.”

Better Safe Than Tumour

Unfortunately, there are other people like Tom who have brain tumours but are misdiagnosed early on in their journeys. So, it always helps to know what symptoms to look out for. That’s why we created Better Safe Than Tumour.

Through it, we aim to raise awareness and help people recognise the symptoms of brain tumours as early as possible. To learn more about it, hit the button below.