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Mark Hughes: 5 lessons I’ve learnt since my brain cancer diagnosis

Mark Hughes

Mark reveals why it's crucial to have a positive outlook

Paul Harragon on stage for the Mark Hughes Foundation
Paul Harragon on stage for the Mark Hughes Foundation

July 2013 will forever be etched into Mark Hughes’ mind as the month he went from a healthy 36-year old with a young family to the latest Australian diagnosed with brain cancer. In the weeks following his diagnosis, he underwent brain surgery, and in September 2013 he began chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

Being diagnosed with a disease that has just a 22% five-year survival rate is bound to change your outlook on life and you wouldn’t blame someone for getting stuck in the negative mentality of ‘why me?’

But, Mark’s never been more positive.

Six years on from that devastating blow and Mark’s just completed his latest quarterly scan to make sure the cancer hasn’t yet returned. He’s been given the all-clear for another few months when we sit down to talk about some of the biggest lessons he’s learnt.

Here’s what he had to say.

Control your thoughts

During the months following my diagnosis, I found it so easy to end up on the lounge and let these dark thoughts spiral out of control, but I quickly learnt you’ve got to control your thoughts. The more negative you think, the more negative you become. If you find yourself stuck in negativity, practise gratitude. The way I do this is by diverting my thoughts and focussing on my family, a holiday I’ve been on or something I’ve achieved. Thoughts are like clouds – they come and go, but control is key.

Get the good china out

We’re encouraged to prepare for the future, save things for tomorrow and put things off until we’re older, but you don’t know what’s around the corner.

My Grandma always had her set of good china in the back of the cupboard, but she was always saving it for a good occasion. I reckon it’s time to get it out now and celebrate what we have in this moment.

Kirralee and I have two wine glasses – you know the really nice kind? We get them out of an evening and share a red together. We make even the mundane moments count, because we know now how lucky we are to have them.

Credit: Mark Hughes Foundation

Start the day well

Set yourself up for a good day by beginning your morning well. Most mornings I’ll get up early and head out with my mates for a swim or a workout followed by a coffee. I notice my energy levels are increased and I have a better perspective for the rest of the day – things just seem easier.

Have a clear purpose

Spend more time and energy on achieving your purpose and less time chasing money. Kirralee and I have found our purpose with the Mark Hughes Foundation and we’ll work tirelessly to find a cure for brain cancer. It may not reward us financially, but the satisfaction we get is endless.

Don’t chase profit; chase your passion. I spend the bulk of my energy working on the Foundation and use my corporate speaking appearances to get me through financially. Life can change quickly and you don’t want to have regrets.

Paul Harragon smiling with a group of men smiling in front of snow capped mountains

Hold your friends and family

Surround yourself with good people. If you’re getting pulled down by people, or you find that they’re negatively impacting you, it’s time to remove them from your life. I truly believe that you can determine who someone is by the type of people they call friends. This is a particularly important message for teenagers because they’re at such an impressionable age and the connections they make now will impact them for years to come. Once you’ve surrounded yourself with good people, hold them close.

To find out more about the work that the Foundation is doing, or to donate, head to the Mark Hughes Foundation website.

Mark Hughes wearing a Mark Hughes Foundation beanie

Mark Hughes

Mark Hughes is a celebrated NRL athlete, playing for the Newcastle Knights from 1997-2005. In 2013, Mark was diagnosed with brain cancer and together with his wife Kirralee, they founded the Mark Hughes Foundation to raise awareness and find a cure for the disease.