For ex-Newcastle Knights rugby league star Mark Hughes, everything changed in July 2013 when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Hughes subsequently underwent surgery to remove an avocado-sized tumour, followed by radiation therapy and six months of chemotherapy medication.

The tumour hasn’t come back, but Hughes remains in an ongoing battle to fend it off. And as he fought that battle one thing became clear — there was a clear lack of resources and understanding around brain cancer treatment in Australia.

To address the problem, he established the Mark Hughes Foundation — a charity focused on building community awareness and raising money for brain cancer research.

Not long after that, Hughes and a team of volunteers set off on their fundraising mission — a punishing trek along the Kokoda trail which brought in about $150,000.

Fast-forward to today, and a team of 19 are flying out to scale the 5,890m Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak — this time with a fundraising target of $600k.

Among the group is Bryce Healy — a good mate of Hughes — who’ll be taking two weeks off from his day job as Head of Exploration at Queensland-based gold explorer Great Southern Mining (ASX:GSN) to climb Africa’s tallest peak.

Speaking with Stockhead, Healy said he’s had a first-hand view of Hughes’ fundraising efforts, as part of the quest to lower brain cancer mortality rates.

“I think it’s an amazing thing to come out of a cancer diagnosis — that Mark’s mind turned to what he could do to improve things,” Healy said.

“And out of that the first trek was born, and a group of mates just jumped on that journey and it sort of went from strength to strength.”


Eyes on the prize

Healy said that a key strength of the Hughes Foundation’s fundraising progress is each member of the team takes accountability for their individual fundraising efforts.

“There’s always been a very clear purpose as to what we’re raising and what that’s going to contribute to. So people who donate can see what their money’s going towards, which I think is always important with a charity.”

Stockhead got the details from Hughes himself, who highlighted what the Foundation is focused on with this year’s trek.

“The main purpose of this trip is raising money to get brain-cancer care nurses placed throughout regional NSW, which is very important,” he said.

“There’s many things brain cancer nurses do, over and above what normal nurses do, that it’s too important not to have them.

“They book your medical appointments, and accompany you to those appointments. They’re on the phone 24/7, and they’re there for your family because they need you more than anyone. Statistics show that patients get big benefits from that type of support,” Hughes said.

Having raised more than $1m in total, the Hughes Foundation’s trekking initiative is well on track to meet this year’s target with more than $500k already collected.

“It might be $20, it might be $200, but it all adds up and it’s been fantastic to see the support,” Hughes said.

“People really care and they’re putting their hand up to help which is awesome.”

Hughes and Healy will be joined on this year’s expedition by a number of NRL luminaries including Danny Buderus, Michael Gordon and Sydney Roosters premiership coach Trent Robinson.

For Healy, participating in the trek is a good example of how Australia’s mining industry can help the broader community.

“The reality is that the industry does support many different organisations. But I think there’s a message in there that the mining community can certainly jump on board with these causes.”

“Mark is from Newcastle and he’s focused on helping his local area, but it’s an opportunity for mining companies across the country to jump on board and say — this is a problem which affects people nationwide.”

To donate money to the cause, head to the Mark Hughes Foundation website and click on this link.