Open letter from Sam Watson, Managing Director of Stewardship and Founder of The Samfund

Open letter from Sam Watson, Managing Director of Stewardship and Founder of The Samfund

To all of the friends and supporters in our Samfund and Expect Miracles communities,

You’ve all heard me share my story of being diagnosed with cancer twice in my early 20s, receiving a $275,000 bill in the mail after my bone marrow transplant, and creating The Samfund (or, Surviving And Moving Forward: The SAMFund for Young Adult Survivors of Cancer) as a way to pay forward the support I was so fortunate to have during my years of treatment and recovery.

What you may not know is that I didn’t just do it to help people. I did it because I needed to find a way forward through my own survivorship.

Creating The Samfund was, as my daughter would say, a “happy accident.” What began as an idea for a fundraiser became a nonprofit organization when two college friends and I realized that nothing existed specifically to support young adults in their financial recovery from cancer. “Young adult cancer,” “survivorship,” and “financial toxicity” were not common phrases at that time.

When we started, I wish I could say I had a business plan or a strategic vision—I didn’t. What I did have was lived experience and an incredible network of smart and generous people around me. In the first two years, we raised enough to award our first grants—in 2005 we wrote checks for 18 young adult survivors, totaling $35,000. The next year, we awarded $60,000.

While it felt pretty amazing to pay bills for people who couldn’t afford them, what I was not expecting was the validation of my own story that came from hearing others’. As I read the applications and started to receive emails and phone calls from young adults just like me, I felt less vulnerable and alone. Being a 20-something year old cancer survivor was a challenge all on its own; navigating “normal” experiences like dating and interviewing for jobs was loaded for someone whose body looked and functioned differently and who lacked confidence as an independent young person. But through these connections, I found my people and I found my voice.

Over time, The Samfund became a community of young adult survivors, family members, and supporters, each grateful not only for the financial support but also for the love and kinship that emerged because of it. Together, we cared for and understood one another, creating something far bigger, and more meaningful, than I could have ever hoped for.

It was then that we began to build crucial momentum—we started to emerge as a critical voice in the AYA space, receiving incredible opportunities to publish, advocate, and collaborate with some of the top researchers, medical providers, and organizations in the cancer community. Then in July of 2019, we merged with Expect Miracles, its Board and donors welcoming our Samfund community with open arms.

Even with a global pandemic, we have already accomplished more together than we had separately—in this year alone, we’re slated to award at least $500K in Samfund grants. We have come a long way from awarding $35,000 in 2005.

It is clear that The Samfund has found its permanent home and will thrive for many years to come.

And so, it is with a very full heart that I let you all know that, effective July 1, I will be transitioning out of my staff position and joining the Board of Directors at Expect Miracles. Our Samfund programs are firmly rooted, our team is strong, and it’s time for me to focus my time and energy on my family.

I have put my whole heart and soul into this work for more than 19 years, and watching this organization and community grow and thrive has been an honor and a privilege.  One of my mentors used to tell me that our goal should be to create something that would outlast us. For a long time, I never fully understood what he meant; I assumed I would always be doing this work. But he was right – creating something bigger than any one person should always be the goal. Our Samfund grants, and other support programs for young adult cancer survivors, will be here for as long as people need them, regardless of where I, or anyone else, sit.

So thank you, to all of the donors and volunteers who have been part of this journey alongside me. Thank you for supporting The Samfund when it was just an idea, for trusting my judgment, and for giving so generously every time we’ve asked. Thank you for believing in the potential of our young adult survivor community, and for knowing that a little can go a long way, not just in terms of financial relief but also to restoring confidence and hope. Together, we have created something incredible, and I hope you are as proud of it as I am.

I remain as committed to this mission and organization as ever, and look forward to staying connected in my new role. You’ll still see me at events, I’ll still support this cause in every way that I can, and my heart will always be with the fellow and future cancer survivors whose stories inspired me to own mine.  



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