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Mark Hughes still ‘fighting the war’

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The same resolute commitment Mark Hughes displayed on the rugby league field continues to drive him to find a cure for brain cancer.

You can hear it in the Newcastle Knights legend’s voice, as he proudly talks about his foundation, which he established in 2014 after receiving the biggest scare of his life.

And, in his own words, he may have won the battle, but he’s still fighting the war.

In fact, the 44-year-old won’t rest until he’s played a pivotal role in the demise of the insidious disease.

“When my wife Kirralee and I started the Mark Hughes Foundation (MHF), we had high hopes,” he said.

“However, I never dreamed of the response we’ve had, the support we’ve had.

“It’s just been a really great focus for myself – and our family.

“I was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013 and the news was shattering.

“At the same time, I was blown away by the overwhelming level of support from family, friends and the community, which helped me maintain a positive mindset throughout my treatment.

“But, Kirralee and I also realised how underfunded that aspect was in Australia in comparison to other cancers.

“We were astounded to discover the appalling brain cancer statistics in this country.

“It kills more children than any other disease and more people under 40 in Australia than any other cancer – yet it receives less than 5% of government cancer research funding.

“So, we established the MHF quite quickly.

“To be honest, we launched it as a way of repaying those who had helped me and to help others in my position.

“And, it’s been a crazy journey ever since.”

Hughes, a member of the Knights’ 1997 and 2001 premiership-winning sides, admits he’s happy with what the MHF has achieved, however the work’s far from over.

“We couldn’t have done much better; we’ve raised more than $20 million,” he said.

“But, until we get better outcomes for patients and until we get a cure, we can’t be satisfied.

“We’ve funded a Brain Cancer Biobank; studies; travel grants; numerous brain cancer care coordinators right across Newcastle and regional NSW, who do a wonderful job; and equipment; as well as a scientific committee that hands out [money for] research projects around Australia including three fellowships.

“We have got some really big things in the pipeline as well, including a $7.5 million five-year philanthropic commitment to the University of Newcastle.

“We’re very excited with where we’re at.

“However, we’ll never be satisfied until, ideally, we find a cure for brain cancer.

“I get plenty of satisfaction when people come up to me on the street.

“I played professional rugby league for 10 years, so I had a lot of that [attention] as a footballer.

“But, to have them tell me about their cancer journey, or who they know, and give me their stories is touching.

“They see the MHF inspires them and wants to help them.

“It’s really humbling to be a part of that.

“You play sport – you win, you lose.

“However, this is life, it’s deadly serious.

“To be out there making a difference, it’s super special.”

The MHF’s hugely-successful Beanie for Brain Cancer campaign will be front and centre of the National Rugby League (NRL) this weekend, as it hosts the popular round.

As for Hughes’ beloved Knights, they’ll tackle the New Zealand Warriors at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday 19 June from 3pm.

“I can’t believe we’ve sold close to 500,000 (beanies),” the Kurri Kurri Bulldogs junior told the Newcastle Weekly.

“They’re definitely the foundation’s biggest thing on our fundraising calendar.

“When I was going through treatment, I wore beanies.

“I just felt they and brain cancer fitted really well together.

“That’s how it all started – and it’s now become a national initiative.

“Other foundations are using it as well.

“So, we’re really proud that we kicked it all off.

“My mate Matt Callander, who lost his battle with brain cancer in 2017, along with close friend Glenn Pallister were the inspiration and reason the NRL Beanie for Brain Cancer round began.

“I’m thrilled with the reaction to it.

“We’re always improving our beanies, they’re better every year.

“But, it’s not only about the money [we raise], it’s also the awareness we receive in the community.

“People see our beanies, they want one.

“It’s a really special thing.

“The quality and comfort are very good – we think we’ll have an awesome response in 2021.”

The beanies, $25 each (toddlers $20), are available at all NRL matches this weekend, as well as Lowes, participating IGA stores or online at markhughesfoundation.com.au

“We haven’t set a [monetary] target,” Hughes said.

“We’re just grateful in this day and age that people, if they’ve got $25 and they can spend it, love to support the MHF.

“It’s not just a beanie, it’s a symbol of hope for brain cancer.”

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