Setting sail for the rest of their lives after overcoming cancer

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A group of youngsters who have suffered cancer are sailing around Britain as part of a charity voyage. Catherine Scott meets one of them.

Abbie Morton has just spent 34 hours straight helping to sail a yacht around part of the English coast.

She has seen dolphins, shooting stars and breathtaking sunrises – they were sights she feared she may never see.

Abbie is one of six young people currently tackling the 230-nautical mile Leg 13 from Falmouth to Cardiff of a round-Britain voyage with a difference.

Launched by the history-making yachtswoman in 2003, the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust is a national charity that rebuilds confidence after cancer and uses sailing to support, empower and inspire young people aged eight to 24 in embracing their future with optimism.

“Without the trust I wouldn’t have had the chance to turn around some of the big negatives of having cancer into a positive,” says Abbie, from Castleford.

It is all a far cry from six years ago when Abbie, then 17, was being treated for cancer at Leeds General Infirmary.

“I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011 when I was 17. I was just finishing my first year of college,” recalls Abbie.

“I had noticed a bony disc-shaped lump in my chest and so visited my GP, who then referred me for further tests. A week after my tests I had been referred to the paediatric oncology unit in Leeds.”

Abbie under went four months of chemotherapy and then three-and-a-half weeks of radiotherapy.

“Treatment was tough and I had a lot of side effects including losing my hair. I had to miss lots of college and hardly saw any of my friends, completely separating me from normal teenage life.

“I tried to stay positive throughout my treatment to cope with it. The support from my family was also amazing as they were brilliant.

“I tried to remain stubborn and stuck to my college work as I wanted to keep some normality, I also wanted to try and go to university at the same time as my friends and not let cancer set me back.”

It was while on the Teenage Cancer Trust Unit at the LGI that Abbie, who had never sailed before, first heard about the trust.

“The youth co-ordinator asked if I would be interested in going on a trip with the trust and so I jumped at the chance. Since then I have been sailing twice more on trips and done a training week to become a graduate volunteer to help on future trips.

“The trips have really increased my confidence after treatment. I have made fantastic friends who have been through the same thing as me and I have learnt to push myboundaries.

“They really become some of my favourite weeks.”

Cancer also changed the path of Abbie’s life.

“The treatment completely changed what I wanted to do in the future; I changed my university course from studying podiatry close to home to studying radiotherapy and oncology at the University of Hertfordshire and last year qualified as a therapeutic (radiotherapy) radiographer to help other cancer patients through treatment.”

Abbie, now 23, is helping to treat other cancer patients as a therapeutic radiographer at Southampton General Hospital, while continuing to fulfil her passon for sailing.

And she is not the only young person from Yorkshire taking part in the 2,400-mile sailing relay Round Britain aboard the Trust’s 44ft yacht, Moonspray, as part of an extraordinary journey around Britain to celebrate recovery, achievement and potential.

Kamil Kasprowski, 12, will be taking part in the 15th leg of the challenge from Holyhead to Liverpool.

Kamil, from Goole, started sailing with the trust last year after undergoing treatment for medulloblastoma (a malignant brain tumour) at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust in 2015.

Jenny Layton, 23, from Scarborough, completed the seventh leg from Newcastle to Hull along with Victoria Newmarch, from Castleford.

Craig Swift, 22, from Doncaster, took part in Leg two from Glasgow to Oban; Jamie Read, 22, from West Yorkshire, sailed from Inverness to Aberdeen and Ben Marsh, 13, from Hull, sailed from Aberdeen to Edinburgh.

Round Britain finishes back where it started, at the trust’s Scottish base in Largs.

Abbie and her crewmates departed Falmouth on Monday, before heading west to round the Lizard and Land’s End and travel up the Bristol Channel to Cardiff Bay, where they are scheduled to arrive today.

Then, if the previous 230 miles had not already provided enough excitement, the crew will be at the heart of the action for four days of adrenaline-fuelled Extreme Sailing Series racing over the bank holiday (August 25-28). The Extreme Sailing Series is the original stadium racing sailing circuit putting some of the best sailors on the planet head to head.

This year the trust will work with almost 600 young people in recovery.

But for every young person they currently support, there are nine they cannot.

Through the campaign #tell9people and by sharing the stories of the young people taking part, Round Britain 2017 aims to raise awareness of the trust’s work both publicly and within the hospitals and medical support networks around the country, many of which the young people will be visiting during the voyage.

To support the work of the trust visit www.ellenmacarthurcancer
trust.org.