Cancer Survivor Turned Activist Sam Macarah

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Sam Macarah ringing the bell after completing chemotherapy.
Sam Macarah ringing the bell after completing chemotherapy.

Sam Macarah and his grandmother frequented the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Whether they were performing at the Hollywood Bowl or Walt Disney Concert Hall or simply rehearsing, the two would watch, marveling at their talent.

“Every once in a while, we'll play a piece that me and my grandma loved listening to together,” Macarah said of playing in the SDSU Symphony Orchestra. “The music you get to play is rewarding, just by being able to perform it.”

Macarah is a cancer survivor and a witness to his grandmother's bout with cancer. Now he does all he can to fight back as an ambassador for several charities. 

“All this stuff I do is to try in the slightest to give back to the people that I will never even know, that helped me,” he shared. “If it wasn’t for CHLA [Children’s Hospital Los Angeles], their nurses and doctors, I wouldn’t be here. If it weren’t for the rehab people, I wouldn’t be walking.”

In 2021, Macarah was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia and spent three months in the hospital. A week after his diagnosis, a bleed in his spinal cord left him paralyzed. Today, Macarah is 100% cancer-free.

“Most childhood cancer survivors are still young,” Macarah said. “They can't remember their trauma. They can't articulate their feelings at the time. They can't articulate their gratitude, not because they don't have it, but because they're just too young. A really important thing for me to remember is that I'm one of few childhood cancer advocates who's a survivor, had a recent story, and likes to do public speaking and raise awareness.”

Macarah is an ambassador for Make-A-Wish, St. Baldrick’s Foundation, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Even before his cancer diagnosis, he would shave his head with St. Baldrick’s in solidarity.

Through Make-A-Wish, Macarah has made television and public speaking appearances. His wish led to him receiving custom golf clubs from Callaway and breaking them in with a trip to Top Golf for his friends and family.

As an ambassador for St. Baldrick’s, Macarah recently traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby for further funding for cancer research.

“I was the only really triumphant survivor story there,” he said. “Pretty much everyone else I met was a parent who had lost their kid. It was really heavy… I had the easiest experience of everyone there, and by no means was my experience easy.”

Before cancer, Macarah would often keep to himself in high school, regularly watching Game of Thrones at lunch. Now he’s an SDSU ambassador, plays the cello on tour with the SDSU Symphony Orchestra, and is a public speaker.

“That’s the cancer experience,” he shared. “The first six months, we weren't sure if I was gonna live or die. That's definitely something that changes your mental outlook and your frame of mind when it comes to everyday life.”

“When I came back to high school, not because of any decision I made, I was a lot more outgoing and I was a lot more excited about hanging out with people, meeting new people, and trying to be more active.”

The College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts admires Macarah’s continued activism and strength. To learn more or donate, visit Make-A-Wish, St. Baldrick’s Foundation, or the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

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