From the fight of his life, Mark Hughes has built a foundation dedicated to saving the lives of others.
Diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013, the former Newcastle Knight is now at the forefront of scientific research into the disease thanks to fundraising through his charity, the Mark Hughes Foundation.
It is seven years since the foundation started its annual Beanies for Brain Cancer initiative.
“When we came up with the idea, we were hopeful and thought: ‘Beanies for Brain Cancer’, the words went quite well together, it was catchy,” Hughes tells Newcastle Weekly.
“We started out with kids wearing beanies to school and, when that took off, we set about designing a beanie and it’s gone from there.
“We couldn’t plan or dream of the support that was to come.”
Almost a decade later, the foundation has sold more than 500,000 beanies.
“We drive the car down the street and see people walking in our beanies, especially in Newcastle and it’s the same in the coalfields, I even see them down in Sydney,” Hughes says.
“It’s really special to see that type of support.
“While people are buying beanies, it really means more than that, it offers hope for brain cancer, so it’s a really good way people can get behind the cause and get something for it, a warm beanie for winter.”
This year is a little different for the foundation, with a challenging lead up to the fundraiser due to COVID-19.
“It’s a trying time for everyone and a tough time for charities, we are lucky we have something we can still do but we are mindful everyone’s circumstances are different,” he says.
“People have their own worries, drought, fires, COVID-19, it’s been a tough year and our message is, if you’re in a position to support us, great.
“If not, we fully understand.”
Donations from last year’s fundraiser have gone towards the creation of the NRL Beanies for Brain Cancer Fellowship, a three-year research position at the Children’s Medical Research Institute.
“Last year we had $1.6 million in innovation grants and researchers from across Australia put papers in and our scientific committee chose what it felt would work, because brain cancer is a tough nut to crack,” Hughes says.
“This year, we’re asking the best researchers to think out of the square and come to us.
“We’re building a team of researchers and they all collaborate across Australia.”
It aims to help save lives – like that of Matt Forster, whose family is shining a light on the disease this year as campaign ambassadors.
Wife Carly and children Imogen and Aidan lost a husband and father to brain cancer last year.
“If people need a reminder of the seriousness and devastation this disease causes, see Carly and her two kids,” Hughes says.
“Matt was in the prime of his life, setting up a family when he got his diagnosis and he lost his battle, and that kind of devastation is the inspiration our team takes.
“We need to stop that from happening because, at the end of the day, there is no cure.”
As for Mark’s own journey, he undergoes scans every four months, and so far, so good.
“Everything is going along well but it’s brain cancer, it’s not something that goes away but I’m healthy and fit, I feel great and am certainly excited to be continuing on in life and grateful for everything that comes my way,” he says.
This year, there’s a new addition to the selection of beanies, with a kids’ design for sale online.
“We listened when our supporters said they’d love to buy their grandkids a beanie, so we thought: ‘Let’s trial that’, so we’re dipping our toe in water but recommend getting in nice and early.”
Beanies can be bought online via the Mark Hughes Foundation’s website, as well as at selected Lowes stores and IGA supermarkets.