A tribute to Sam Isaacson: ‘She wanted to pack joy and adventure into the world’
She was a friend and inspiration to so many, and Sam Isaacson was still smiling and laughing until the end.
The 31-year-old died on Wednesday February 10, nearly six years after she was told she had two to three years to live, following a diagnosis of terminal bowel cancer.
Sam, who grew up in Milton, faced the diagnosis in the same way she approached life: determined to make the most of everything.
“Sam just wanted to pack fun, adventure and joy into the world. She just had a way about her,” her mum, Sue Isaacson, told the Cambridge Independent ahead of Sam’s funeral on Wednesday (February 24), which will feature a ‘road trip’ to give the community a chance to say goodbye.
“I spoke to her oncologist consultant, who has always been very close to Sam. She said to me on the phone the other day ‘There will never be another patient like her’. She just had a way of drawing you in.
“She always thought of others constantly. The whole time these last six months, when she knew really it was the end of the road and there were no other options, she just spent her time thinking about getting help for her close family.
“She was always laughing that infectious laugh. We have been that sort of family anyway: we’re here for such a short time, so let’s enjoy it.
“So many people have said to me, ‘I will live my life differently because of her. I will live in the moment’. So she has left a lasting legacy.”
Through fundraising events like the Kick Cancer Cup, held in Histon, and two charity balls, Sam raised about £65,000 for Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust and for Arthur Rank Hospice, where she spent her final three weeks.
While going through more than 100 rounds of chemotherapy treatment, she continued to inspire those at Gretton School for children with learning difficulties, where she was behavioural support manager.
And she led the Fulbourn Bluebirds women’s football team as captain.
“We lost our leader, our captain and a hero to us all,” the Bluebirds said, describing her as “a huge voice not only within our club but within all of local women’s football”.
“Sam’s dedication to her every passion was truly inspirational,” they added, echoing the thoughts of many.
Born at the Rosie Hospital in Cambridge, Sam went to Milton Primary School, Impington Village College and Long Road Sixth Form in Cambridge, before completing a degree in sports coaching science at Worcester University.
A sister to David, 39, a Cambridge-based photographer, and Christian, 28, who works for Virgin Atlantic, Sam and her family lived in Milton for about 25 years, before moving to Waterbeach. Sam is also survived by father, Paul.
The family travelled regularly and Sam visited about 60 countries, inspiring her sense of adventure.
It was in March 2015 that Sam, then aged 25, received the awful diagnosis.
“It was literally out of the blue,” recalled Sue. “She was one of the healthiest people you could ever want to meet – slim, healthy and fit. She just went in with stomach pains. She was told the day after going to the hospital that it was terminal and she had two to three years.
“She made it to nearly six years and over 100 rounds of chemo. It was just astonishing how she dealt with that
“Sam didn’t do cancer really. She never wanted to be called a survivor. In her mind, in a fight or a battle, there is a winner and a loser, and her belief was that this is what had happened and she would live with it and live with it in the most incredible way.
“After about eight hours of chemo at the hospital, she’d come home with her infusion pump attached to her for another two days, and be in such an awful position of being sick and in pain, but she would make arrangements to do something or see someone. And when that person came it was like a lightbulb switched on. She never wanted to be treated or seen as ill.
“It was sheer determination that she went on for that amount of time. She must have had an incredibly high pain tolerance and she would just try and put that aside and go out into the world.”
And so it was that Sam, who coached girls’ and women’s football, organised the Kick Cancer Cup at Histon, an annual charity football match launched in 2015 to benefit Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust (ACT), the oncology unit and, more recently, Arthur Rank Hospice too.
“I remember when they put on the first Kick Cancer Cup. We didn’t know how many people would turn up. But they ran out of beer – I think they had over 500 people and it just carried on. She did so much for women’s football,” said Sue.
Two charity balls bolstered the coffers, and Sam and ACT helped to ensure the money benefitted patient needs. In her blog, Sam wrote of Dr Awesome – her consultant – and
her team, and the wonderful work they do.
“So many things have changed in oncology because of Sam, as the money went directly to that department,” said Sue.
Following her death, Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust said: “Thank you, Sam, you were one inspirational lady and will be terribly missed by everyone at ACT.”
In 2019, Sam was nominated as the ‘Christmas star’ to turn on Cambridge’s Christmas lights. The nomination was supported by Bec Beattie, community fundraiser for Arthur Rank Hospice.
Through a charity ball and the 2019 Kick Cancer Cup, Sam had helped to raise £16,000 for the hospice.
“The love and the care at the hospice is just beyond anything you would expect. It was just incredible, and I know Sam would really like to thank them as well,” said Sue.
“She died very, very peacefully.
“In fact she was still laughing that evening, playing a game on her phone with her friends and her family,” said Sue.
“I take great comfort from the fact that her last wish was to come home for the weekend from the hospice, to join in the quiz with her friends on the Saturday night, to spend time with her brothers, watching and singing along to High School Musical, to have a hot bubble bath and a roast dinner with us all – and we were just honoured that we got to do that.”
Her blog – at http://iwasntexpectingthat.com/ – summed up her thirst for life.
“I live for my good week, I live for the week I feel more able, the week I feel more like me. The week I can go see my friends, play football, eat out, travel, work and generally live the life I crave to have,” she wrote.
Sam lived life to the full.
Sam’s funeral: A final road trip
Sam’s funeral represents her very last road trip. It will begin from Milton at about 1pm on February 24 and head to Waterbeach to collect family.
“We will travel through Waterbeach to the A10, past Impington Village College, onto Gretton School, Girton, Huntingdon Road, Milton Road and All Saints Church in Milton,” said Sue.
“We hope this will allow the many people who will be unable to attend the funeral a way to say goodbye, by standing along the route in their social bubbles and remaining socially distanced,” said Sue.
The service at All Saints will have the 30 invited guests permitted under Covid restrictions, but a livestream will be available for two weeks at youtube.com/c/allsaintsmilton.
“Sam’s final wish is that everyone attending her funeral dresses as they wish – that is, not in black, as she would like it colourful,” said Sue.
Guests must wear masks and, as Sam requested, their “favourite pair of trainers”.
Only flowers from the family are requested. Donations can be made to Arthur Rank Hospice.
Tributes and donations can be left at http://samisaacson.muchloved.com.