Sailing to a better future after childhood cancer

test sail off Largs Image copyright TOM ROBERTS
Image caption The yacht sails around the UK from Largs in Ayrshire

Young people who have been through cancer treatment are taking on the demands of sailing around Britain on a 44ft yacht.

"It felt like being in control again," says Tom Roberts, who will be one of those setting off from Largs on Saturday to sail a 2,400-mile relay around the UK coastline.

Sailing has been a real contrast to the medical world he had been in, where the demands of cancer treatment meant pretty much doing as he was told.

Round Britain 2017 is organised by the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust, set up by the well-known yachtswomen to help young people recovering from cancer regain confidence and a sense of independence through sailing.

A cancer diagnosis is devastating at any age but if you are a child or young person, going through other changes in your life, that can add another dimension.

Image caption Tom Roberts and Hannah Spencer both had cancer diagnoses when they were younger

Tom Roberts, now 24, was diagnosed with bone cancer on his 16th birthday and says dealing with the emotional side of things was especially hard.

"It certainly doesn't stop when you stop your treatment," he adds.

Surgery and then about 18 months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy meant he missed out on crucial bits of his development.

"There's a lot of rebuilding that needs to go on to bring you back into the world and develop to a level where your peers are," he says.

He will be recording life throughout the trip as the on-board reporter.

His home for the next four months is the 44ft yacht, the Moonspray.

In relays it will also host about 100 young people on different legs of the trip.

Image copyright Tom Roberts
Image caption How to tie knots, socialise and make relationships are skills learnt on the yacht

It will stop at more than 60 towns and ports including Glasgow, Inverness, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Plymouth, Liverpool and London.

The journey begins and ends in Largs.

Each young person on board has their individual story.

"I was terrified by the thought of stepping on a boat," says 20-year-old Victoria Sanches.

"I never even considered it, especially after all I'd been through."

She first sailed with the trust in 2013 and is doing so again this time.

New things

After being diagnosed with a benign brain tumour, aged about 11, she feels she had to grow up earlier than she should have done.

"I never thought I'd be saying, I have a brain tumour but I still sail," she says.

"It's almost showed me that my illness doesn't have to stop me from trying new things and doing everything I want to do."

Being with other people who really understand what they've been through was important to the young people I spoke to.

Learning how to tie knots, socialise and make relationships, was how one of them put it.

The full-time mate on this trip, Hannah Spencer, 23, found sailing made a huge difference to her life and now she would like to pursue a career on the water.

Diagnosed during her exams, she too felt she missed out on things that teenagers do, like going out and learning social skills.

"It (sailing) opened my eyes really," she says.

"I was so insular, in my little chemo world, going to hospital every other day.

"Coming away for just four days out of the year to different people, a different lifestyle really helped me, just showed me a different way I could live my life if I got through this, which thankfully I did."