More FM’s Lana Searle and Sam Baxter on the tight bond they’ve forged over their health struggles

On and off air, the radio stars look out for each other.
Lana Searle and Sam Baxter

They work together, live next door to each other and can often be spotted out on a jet ski or at the driving range in the afternoons.

In fact, radio co-hosts Lana Searle and Samantha Baxter are so close they’re often mistaken for sisters.

The best friends, who are part of More FM’s Breakfast Club, are both laid-back, witty and quick to laugh – traits they’ve been able to maintain despite years of devastating illnesses.

For Lana (32), the health troubles began when she went on the contraceptive pill to combat ongoing hormonal issues.

She quickly developed blood clots and ended up in hospital needing seven blood transfusions. The presenter then spent two years going on and off different hormones before, exhausted and sick, she finally opted for a hysterectomy to try to regain some quality of life.

After Lana (left) and Sam each hit health speed bumps in recent years, they now make sure to look for signs of strain in each other.

Unfortunately, she got two infections after the hysterectomy. One day, after losing a huge amount of blood in her bathroom at home, she was rushed to hospital for life-saving surgery.

Lana, who just last week announced her engagement to Katie Cochrane (36), is now in much better health, but admits she struggled to come to terms with everything that happened.

“Sam was the one who helped me identify that I needed counselling,” recalls Lana.

“She said, ‘Dude, this is a real thing and unless you sort it out, it’s not going to go away.’ I mean, I talked about all of the health stuff I was going through all the time, like a live commentary, but I wasn’t processing it at the same time. I was having awful nightmares and flashbacks during the day, which I’ve since learnt was PTSD.”

Sam (28) was in a unique position to support her friend – she knew how it felt to deal with a scary knock to your health.

In 2015, she woke one morning feeling numb and tingly from the waist down.

“I went to the toilet and I could tell that I was going to the toilet because I could hear myself peeing but I couldn’t feel that sensation. I ended up at the doctor’s for a late-night appointment, crying because I was quite scared.”

She was referred for an MRI and was diagnosed with transverse myelitis – where the spinal cord loses its ability to transmit nerve impulses, causing paralysis and numbness.

“Basically, they said I had to have another MRI in a year because transverse myelitis can be a one-off thing or can be the start of multiple sclerosis. I remember saying to my mum, ‘If I’ve got MS, the world is over – you don’t even want to know me.'”

Watch Sam reveal she has MS here, story continues below:

Loading the player...

Sam’s father, Chris, died of a brain tumour at the age of 41, when she was just 15, so she was acutely aware of how fragile life could be.

“I think that’s why I reacted so intensely to the MS thing,” she says. “I probably took a long time to deal with his death and didn’t realise that was my problem for a long time.”

When the second MRI revealed she did in fact have MS, she immediately prepared for the worst.

“My first thought was, ‘I’m going to be in a wheelchair. I’m not going to be on the radio anymore. I’m not going to be able to travel and I’m not going to have kids. I just assumed it was going to be the end of my life.”

Luckily for Sam, although MS can’t be cured, treatment has advanced considerably in the last 10 years. She is using natalizumab, a synthetic antibody administered monthly at a hospital by intravenous infusion.

However, because it slows down the immune system, she endured a year in which she caught everything going, and developed bronchitis, a chest infection and two bouts of full body rashes.

“I was just gutted; I was really grieving. But then they changed the medication to every six weeks and that made a world of difference. I built up a bit of immunity again.”

Sam’s last two scans have been stable.

“I still only have either three or four lesions on my brain. They haven’t gone away and they haven’t decreased, but there aren’t any new ones. They obviously can’t cure it, but they’ve slowed it right down. That’s not to say that I won’t get one [lesion] next year – or five. You don’t know but so far, so bloody good!” she says with a grin.

Working together everyday on More FM’s Breakfast CLub has only strengthened Lana and Sam’s friendship

Lana, who has just completed six months of therapy that she describes as a “huge help”, was there for Sam when she decided to open up about her MS on the radio in March this year.

“I got where she was coming from with not talking about it early on because she was still trying to absorb it herself,” says Lana.

“When she did talk about her MS on the show she was ready, and at peace with it.”

Sam received an outpouring of love from their More FM listeners.

“I think the minute I truly accepted I had MS was the minute I said it out loud on air. You can see it on my face.

It’s this relief. I was overwhelmed by the love and kindness. I had thousands of messages. I did try to reply to every single one.”

Both women feel positive about the future and are looking out for one another.

“Now that I’m feeling so much better, I really feel like [the hysterectomy] was the best decision I could have made,” says Lana, who is training for the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge in November.

“I can now do stuff that most people can do without worrying every day!

“I’m cycling distances that I couldn’t have dreamed of a year ago. I’m nervous as heck because I’m completely out of my depth cycling 160km, but I’m so happy and I’m just going to go for it.”

To add to the joy, her partner Katie recently proposed at Glink’s Gully, a beach near Dargaville.

“Every awesome thing that’s ever happened in my life happened there!” Lana says.

Sam, meanwhile, is focusing on being as healthy and fit as she can.

“When I was diagnosed with MS, I was really sad and put on loads of weight, so my goal is to live life as if I hadn’t been diagnosed. I’m now down 18kg! That’s something I didn’t think I would ever do.”

Lana and Sam joke that no-one can believe they want to hang out in the afternoons after working together all morning.

“I don’t know how she hasn’t got sick of me,” says Lana, laughing. “I’m loud! I get sick of me!

“But we’re best mates. Today she asked me if I want to go fishing with her, but she doesn’t like touching fish. We’re going to have to work around that.”

Related stories