A Whangārei man has gone from barely being able to run 100m to a 10km event in an effort to raise money and publicity for a brain tumour support group.
Gavin Starling, a sleep physiologist at Whangārei Hospital, is raising money for Brain Tumour Support NZ by running 10km in the Queenstown International Running Festival tomorrow.
Starling, a trustee for Brain Tumour Support NZ, lost his partner, Natalie, to a brain tumour in March 2018.
He was inspired to get involved with the charity due to the lack of New Zealand-focused information and support for brain tumour patients and their carers.
"There was literally nothing," he said.
Mandy Bathan, chairwoman and founder of Brain Tumour Support NZ, said the charity's main goal was to give tumour-affected Kiwis relevant information and support.
"We want people to feel less afraid and more in control of what's happening."
One way they do this is by sending out "brainboxes" to the recently diagnosed – care packages containing patient guides, teabags, biscuits, lollies, wheat packs and more.
Having sent out 73 boxes, at a cost of $100 each, the cost adds up.
It is costs like these, as well as monthly online support groups hosted by the charity, that Gavin Starling hopes to cover with his fundraising campaign.
With a page on Give A Little, he has already raised $1400 but hopes to break $2000.
"A big reason for me to run is to honour Nat's memory," he said.
His initial motivation to run came from Laura Larrson, a Queenstown wedding planner who had a tumour the size of a kiwifruit removed from her brain in 2018.
In May, Larrson reached out to the charity for support in her attempt to run the half-marathon in Queenstown. Despite being a total non-runner, he decided to give it a go.
"I was a little over-optimistic," he said. "That first run was a huge shock."
After consulting with a coach from trainers Squadrun, he adjusted his original plan of completing a half-marathon to 10km, with the plan to conquer the 21km next year.
Still, he has been surprised by his own progress.
"If Nat could see me now, she'd be in complete and utter disbelief."
Starling has found the mental health benefits of getting into running indispensable and recommends it to anybody going through difficult circumstances.
"It gives you something to look forward to and it gives you a sense of achievement," he said. "It's difficult but strangely addictive."
He has found the running has given him space to think and process his grief.
"I have these little conversations with Nat as I go round."
Around 1200 primary brain tumours are diagnosed in New Zealand every year.
Bathan went through this experience herself in 2017, when doctors found a golf-ball-sized tumour in her brain, and formed the charity to look after anyone who hears those powerful words from a doctor – "You have a brain tumour".
Bathan, Starling and fellow board member Chris Tse, whose wife was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2006, have all been personally affected by the disease, so they all have "skin in the game", she said.
With the last new drug for treating brain tumours approved by Pharmac almost 15 years ago, she sees progress on the disease as slow.
"Brain cancer survival rates have barely changed in the last 30 years."
The Give A Little page for Gavin Starling's campaign will be open until Saturday.