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Tom took on 20 walks this year, marking 20 years since his brain tumour diagnosis

“On most of our walks, we met people who have been affected by brain tumours.”

A group of charity walkers smile while out on one of 20 walks to raise awareness for brain tumours

At the beginning of this year, Tom Sanderson, from London, embarked on an epic challenge: 20 walks across the UK and Ireland to mark 20 years since his own brain tumour diagnosis, to raise funds, and draw attention to brain tumour symptoms.

Tom set out to cover a wide range of locations, from London and Surrey in the South to Yorkshire and Northumberland in the North.  Joined by family and friends, he’s clocked up the miles in Ireland, Kent, the Wessex Downs and the Dorset coast, among other places!  He’s raised a remarkable £8,000, far exceeding his original target of £500.

This Sunday December 10th, is Tom’s final walk, which has a festive twist – a Santa Hat Walk in the Chilterns! Now 2023 is nearly over – we asked him to look back on the inspiration for the challenge, and to reflect on his year of walks.

A group of walkers hold The Brain Tumour Charity banner during one of 20 walks to raise awareness

Why 20 Walks? How the challenge was born

Tom, who grew up in Northumberland, 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. 

“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. 

Two decades since his own symptoms were initially missed, Tom hoped to use his walking challenge to shine a light on brain tumour symptoms, as well as raising vital funds. He explained at the time:

“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.

“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.“

Walking to Bring People Together

A group of walkers on of 20 walks to raise awareness for brain tumours
A group of walkers stand on a country road holding a banner for The Brain Tumour Charity
A group of charity walkers walk in a green field with a dog

Tom’s 20 walks have been joined by 200 people, plus two babies and 12 dogs!  They’ve all done their bit to help raise funds, and keep brain tumours in the spotlight.

“It has been brilliant, such an amazing way to bring so many people together and raise awareness of the condition. I think it has exceeded what I expected actually. I never imagined that I would have brought so many people on the journey with me.

“On most of our walks we have ended up meeting people who have been affected by brain tumours – either directly themselves or their friends and family. It’s struck me how much of an impact it can have. “

Walking to Make Memories  

A group of walkers and their dogs hold a banner for The Brain Tumour Charity

One of Tom’s favourite walks of the year was a beach walk in Northumberland, attended by over 50 people.  And Northumberland was the location for another memorable moment.  Little did he know, as he posed for photos in front of the famous Sycamore Gap tree on Hadrian’s Wall in September, that the tree would make huge headlines just days later.

“Our walk along Hadrian’s Wall was two days before the terrible news about the Sycamore Gap tree being chopped down. We were joined by a local MP (MP for Hexham,Guy Opperman) on that walk and it is a strange feeling that we were probably the last group of charity walkers to take photos in front of the tree.” 

A group of charity walkers take a photo with the Sycamore Gap tree on Hadrian's Wall days before it was chopped down

Walking to Make a Difference

Seeing his fundraising total grow has been one of the most rewarding aspects of Tom’s year of 20 walks!  But the walking challenge has brought other benefits, too.

“I think it has been an important thing for me to do psychologically. I’ve never really spoken about it to people outside of my close friends and family, but opening up to others has been an enlightening experience.

“We started off with a target of £500 for the year – people have been so generous. To have managed to raise over £8000 for charity is remarkable and I’m so grateful for everyone’s generosity. We have donations from all over the world, having met people on our walks who have gone on to donate.” 

Feeling inspired by Tom’s fundraising?

If you would like to host your own fundraiser, but aren’t sure where to start, we’d love to help. Click the link below to go through to our handy ideas generator. This lets you input your interests and comes up with event ideas that are ideal for you.