A group of young people treated for cancer in Belfast were able to wave their cares goodbye for few days by learning the ropes at sea.
In a bid to inspire them to believe in a brighter future while living through and beyond cancer the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust treated the 12 youngsters, aged 11-24, to three days of sailing in Bangor Marina.
Once aboard the young people, who’d been cared for at Belfast City Hospital and the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, were joined by a volunteer crew and a skipper who taught them how to raise the sails and helm the 44ft yacht.
So following a year of isolations and lockdowns they finally got to mingle with others around their own age.
Sarah Matthews was 23 when she was diagnosed with metastatic germ cell carcinoma. Now 24, she reveals lockdown has “quite possibly been more stressful than treatment” for her.
But she admits: “It was amazing to finally meet some people around my age, in person, who had been through something similar to me. I was on an adult ward during treatment so never had anyone to relate to. Knowing that we all had at least one vaccine and were equally as serious about being safe really just made me feel able to relax and enjoy it.”
Laura Rohdich and Sarah Matthews sailing with the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust
(Image: Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust)
For young people who have had cancer the trust believes that “picking up where they left off before their diagnosis isn’t possible” so that’s when their work work begins. Which is why they were invited on the three days of sailing around Bangor Marine from July 13-16.
Young people, who have been treated for cancer at Belfast City Hospital and the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, enjoyed three days of sailing with the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust at Bangor Marina last week, as the Trust aims to transform more young lives this summer.
12 young people, aged between 11 and 24, took part in three days of sailing between 13-16 July. Each group of young people were joined by a Trust crew of volunteers and a skipper who taught them to raise the sails and helm the 44ft yacht.
The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust inspires young people aged 8-24 to believe in a brighter future living through and beyond cancer. For many young people, picking up where they left off before their diagnosis isn’t possible. So, when treatment ends, the Trust’s work begins.
The hospitals’ sailing days were part of the Trust’s ‘Taste of the Trust’ programme in response to the ongoing pandemic for 2021. Instead of the usual four-day sailing trips the young people would typically be invited on, these regional one-day events take the Trust to the young people and are organised to be as COVID secure as possible.
The hope is the young people enjoyed their day so much they will be inspired to return for the full experience next year.
Frances, Áine, Judith and Sarah with volunteer Laure at the helm of Moonspray
Through the Trust’s sailing and outdoor activities, young people build confidence by making friends with others who have had similar experiences – often for the first time, rediscover independence away from home and outside of their ‘cancer bubble’ and begin to realise what they are capable of again. Most importantly they stop feeling like the ‘only one’.
The Ellen Macarthur Cancer Trust believes every young person should feel valued, accepted, optimistic and independent. Through Trust support, their mental wellbeing improves, and they can start to re-establish their place in the world by getting back into education or employment and reconnecting with their friends and families.
The isolation, loneliness and anxiety experienced by young people with cancer has been massively amplified by the pandemic and lockdown. That is why they need the Trust more than ever right now.
Laura Rohdich, Young People’s Community Worker for Young Lives vs Cancer at Belfast City Hospital has seen it first-hand.
She said: “This past year has been a whole mix of emotions for the young people, their families, and their partners who we have supported in Northern Ireland. Some have found the experience a peaceful time and an opportunity to recharge. Some have found it very triggering and reminiscent of their time on treatment. Others have found it very lonely and isolating and another frustrating diversion, like cancer can be, toward their life plans and goals.
Moonspray in Bangor Marina
“We’ve tried our best to support everybody as best we can through 1-1 work on the phone or video calls, and groupwork via Zoom which has been great – however nothing replaces face to face support.
“It was amazing to actually meet Sarah, Judith and Frances in person as I’ve only ever talked to them via the phone or Zoom. I felt like everyone was very grateful for the opportunity to be with people outside of your bubble and doing something that wasn’t a Zoom quiz or a walk or a chat in the garden. It was lovely to watch friendships blooming and make plans for all the things we can do next. What an amazing opportunity after such a difficult year.”
Sarah added: “When we turned the engine off and I was just at the helm sailing away, it was so peaceful and relaxing in a way I didn’t know I needed. Everyone on board from the Trust just made me feel so welcome and normal.”
The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust is a national organisation that takes young people between the ages of 8-24 on sailing trips to help them rebuild their confidence after cancer treatment and re-engage with education, employment, and society. It was founded by the record-breaking round-the-world yachtswoman in 2003 and is there for anyone who is struggling or could simply do with a bit of support, however long off treatment they are.
Visit ellenmacarthurcancertrust.org or follow @emctrust on social media for more information.
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