19 December 2019

Meet Dervla - her story features in our BBC Radio 4 Appeal

My name is Dervla and I had a brain tumour called a choroid plexus carcinoma, diagnosed in November 2017.

Dervla in Largs

It’s quite a rare tumour. It completely changed my personality. I felt very isolated and completely on my own. My tumour made it very difficult for me to communicate to others how I felt. I was forgetting parts of the person I was. I couldn’t rationalise what was happening to me.

I was walking at an angle, sleeping sitting up or not sleeping at all because the pressure in my head was so overwhelming. When I found out I had a brain tumour, it was the best news I’d ever heard. It was like, ‘I’m not crazy, this is actually a real thing, this is actually happening’, and what a relief I was going to get help.

Fast forward to May 2019. I was offered the opportunity to go on a sailing trip by the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust. It took me a while to decide whether I would go or not! This was going to be my first solo experience without close family or friends.

Many things worried me: would I be fit for this experience, as I was always exhausted? Would I get along with other people on the trip? Would I fit in? Would it be depressing being surrounded by others who had cancer or are dealing with the aftereffects of cancer in the confined space of a boat? What do I need to bring? Will I be seasick?

Even though I was anxious, I needed to prove to myself that I could do it. I knew that I wasn’t the confident person I used to be, but I settled my mind, I would go sailing.

Monday 24 June came. I packed everything I needed into the car and set off for the airport, excited and apprehensive at the same time. When I got there and met some of the other young people, I felt more at ease. The reality was much less stressful than I had anticipated in my head. They were just people; people like me.

In Largs, we took part in team building exercises, working together, starting to bond as a team. While sailing we learned a few essential safety tips, some sea terms, names of parts of the boat and lots more information. Then it was time for the real fun to begin with the water fight between the boats. It was exhilarating. It reminded me of how fun-loving and childlike I still was, we all were. It felt like we were a team.

Dervla in LargsSailing from Port Bannatyne, we had the opportunity to see seals and sea birds – amazing! We stopped for a short time and I took the opportunity to sit at the bow of the boat on my own absorbing the scenery, the heat and the sun. It was sort of blissful, and I was thinking how lucky I was.

The BBQ was a time to see everyone and enjoy each other’s company. Even though I was enjoying myself, I felt a little sad that it was all nearly over. The time for extra chats happened during meals and free time in the evenings, playing games, talking about our lives and sharing experiences of treatments, sickness, sepsis, and the rest.

It is difficult to convey in words what the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust has done for me.

Words are not the same as feelings, but if I can explain even a little, I will. It was like the ‘lightbulb’ moment, realising I am confident to do things away from home and still survive and be happy, because there were good people with me, ready and waiting to help me.

I had never sailed before, so this was a whole new experience. I was happily surprised to see, although it was all new, it was eased in quite nicely. It was something where I thought, ‘Wow, I have to do this again, I have to explain to other people, you need to do this as well’. Now I’ve done this, I can do everything again. It’s reassured me I can definitely achieve. After doing this, I can do all the things I used to do.

Cancer is just a word. It doesn’t describe the person I am. It was just a kink in the road, or should I say, but a drop in the ocean. My brain had time to consolidate what I had experienced, and gave me warm and happy feelings about my future. Thank you Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust.