October-November 2021 | Features

Rotary gets on board

Rotary gets on board

Over the past year, Rotary Heart of England has supported the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust. In July, young people treated at hospitals across the district enjoyed the benefit of that Rotary support, as the Trust welcomed them for sailing and outdoor adventure days.

It’s good to know other people had the same as me, and I’m not the only one.” ‘Not the only one’. Four words the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust hears so often.

Lilly is only nine. But she has lived with the effects of childhood cancer since being diagnosed with Bilateral Retinoblastoma – tumours in both eyes – at 17 months.

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Lilly is blind in her right eye, and as she has gotten older, has become more aware of what she has lived through. It has caused her anxiety. She didn’t know anyone else like her.

Until the day she spent with the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust – sailing, canoeing, and taking on the high ropes – at Whitemoor Lakes Activity Centre, in Lichfield, Staffordshire. It lifted her.

The ‘normal’ they once knew no longer exists. The pandemic has amplified the loneliness, isolation, and anxiety they and their families experience to unimaginable levels.”

“At bedtime, I would feel upset I hadn’t ever met anybody that had the same as me before. And now I feel really good.

“I don’t know why, that just helps me. It made me feel not lonely. Like I’ve got some people behind my back. It makes you feel you’re not the only one.”

Those four words again.

When a young person gets the ‘all-clear’ from cancer it’s an ecstatic time for families.

But for so many young people, picking up from where they left off before their diagnosis isn’t possible. Cancer in young people can lead to poor mental health and emotional well-being, lower educational achievement, barriers to getting a job, body image issues, relationship difficulties and ongoing late effects.

The Solent Hero on one of many adventures

This all comes at a time of rapid physical, emotional and social development.

The ‘normal’ they once knew no longer exists. The pandemic has amplified the loneliness, isolation, and anxiety they and their families experience to unimaginable levels.

This is where the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust comes in, inspiring young people aged 8-24 to believe in a brighter future living through and beyond cancer.

Through sailing and outdoor adventure, young people meet others who have had similar experiences often for the first time, rediscover independence, feel an increased sense of purpose and self-worth, and realise what they are capable of again, physically, mentally, and socially.

Most importantly, they stop feeling like the ‘only one’. They feel accepted, optimistic and independent, and can start to re-establish their place in the world.

Rotary Heart of England Past District Governor, Tim Bushell, was inspired to nominate the Trust as his Charity of the Year after meeting Dr Dave Hobin, a Consultant Paediatric Oncologist at Birmingham’s Children’s Hospital and the Trust’s Medical Advisor, and hearing about the impact the Trust has on so many young people from across his district.


 FACTFILE- Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust

  • Dame Ellen MacArthur founded the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust in 2003 after sailing with A Chacun Son Cap, a French charity for children with cancer and leukaemia, in 2000 and being inspired by the incredible impact sailing had on them.
  • Since 2003, the Trust has supported almost 2,700 young people living through and beyond cancer.
  • The Trust was launched in Cowes, Isle of Wight, and in 2013 opened a second base in Largs on Scotland’s West Coast, to support more young people across Scotland, the north of England and Northern Ireland.
  • The Trust also runs canal trips for young people who are wheelchair users, need more 1-2-1 support, or are anxious about their mobility.
  • The Trust supports brothers and sisters too, as they can be significantly impacted by the long-term illness of a sibling.


Against the backdrop of COVID, the district raised almost £7,500 to help give Lilly and many others like her the chance to believe in a brighter future.

In total, 15 young people from across the district enjoyed one of four days with the Trust at Whitemoor Lakes.

They were amongst 340 young people the Trust has welcomed on trips throughout the UK in 2021.

It’s a big step for them and their parents. They are often quiet and not sure what to expect.”

Julie Gonzalez is a Teenage Cancer Trust Youth Support Coordinator at Birmingham Children’s Hospital and a Trust volunteer.

She said: “Going through cancer treatment over the past 18 months has been so isolating, even more so than usual.

“Young people absolutely needed this to come out of isolation. Anxiety levels in young people are huge at the moment too.

“We saw quite a demand for the trips, not just from the parents, but from young people wanting to do it too.

Lily and Liv set sail

“It’s some sort of sense of normality for them, being able to push themselves a little bit and to get back out there.

“It’s the small steps and I’m so glad the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust is doing it.”

Many young people need continued support over time.

Having enjoyed a ‘Taste of the Trust’ on their doorsteps this summer, all the young people will be invited on a four-day yacht sailing adventure next year and can then stay involved year on year for as long as they need.

In the future, some will also be invited to become volunteers, to support other young people like them.

Carlos on the high ropes

Meeting adults who have had cancer themselves is very powerful and aspirational for someone more recently off treatment.

Dame Ellen concludes: “We find a huge transformation in many young people the first time they are supported by the Trust. There’s an amazing atmosphere on the trips.

“At the start, it’s often the first time a young person has been away from their parents since treatment. It’s a big step for them and their parents. They are often quiet and not sure what to expect.

“At the end of the trip, you wouldn’t recognise them. We get parents to say to us ‘Thank you for giving us our son or daughter back’ because it has a profound effect.

“Thank you, Rotary; we appreciate your time and support for these young people.”

To find out more or to discuss making the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust your Charity of the Year visit ellenmacarthurcancertrust.org or email fundraising@emcancertrust.org

To join Rotary today follow this link: rotarygbi.org/join

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