20 June 2024

In the same boat: building mental wellbeing

Young people often say they are all ‘in the same boat’ at the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust. It is a brilliant pun that never gets old, but what do they really mean? Their mental wellbeing takes a hit when they are diagnosed, but together, they find ways of building it back up again.

In our new monthly In The Same Boat series, young people tell you themselves why they needed post-treatment support, and how being with others who have been through similar things helped to turn their lives around. In this first edition, Lauren, Shaheed, Ben, Jordan, and Lily talk about how being with others at the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust helped after their mental wellbeing had been impacted by their cancer diagnoses.

Name: Lauren
Age: 25
Diagnosis: Hodgkin lymphoma

“I definitely lost confidence during cancer because everyone pities you and that makes you feel like really low and poorly. It makes you feel a little worse when people look at you like you're ill. And when you're ill, you can't really do much for yourself. So, like, I couldn't shower unaided. So it was like I lost confidence in my body healing itself.

“We're all in the same boat. We all know what we've been through. You meet so many interesting people with so many interesting stories and it makes you kind of forget that you had cancer when you're hearing other people talk about their stories.

“I feel so much more confident after my second trip. The first time I came I was not confident doing any of the heavy lifting or the hard work. I was still quite weak, but this time round, I feel very confident in myself. I can – I don't know the names of things – but I can do it. Last time I went away feeling more confident. I think this time I'm going to be a little bit full of myself.”

Name: Shaheed
Age: 25
Diagnosis: Soft tissue pituitary tumour

“I'd never been through anything like cancer before. I was so lost on what to do, where to go, how I go forward from here. What's the next step? How do I get back to how I used to be? So, the charity being there, giving us information, letting us go on trips like these, and letting you meet other people who've had similar issues, lets you get back to normal.

“When you're in the open water and are surrounded by your crewmates who've been through, maybe not the same, but similar experiences as you through either chemo, radio, surgery, whatever it was, you can get their perspective and it's like you're not alone.

“The calmness of being on the sea can help clear your mind. So, if you've got a bit of stress built up, like, ‘oh, I've been through this, my family's been through this, they've been worrying so much’, you can just let all of that go. And it's just you and people who've been through similar experiences, and it just calms you down.”

Name: Ben
Age: 25
Diagnosis: Hodgkin lymphoma

“How do I describe what these trips do and how transformative it is? It's hard, it's kind of like the metaphor of being in the same boat, but it's not just being in a boat. It's being in this boat and with these people, it's a magical formula that's hard to explain.

“It’s a formula of the right young people, the right cancers, the joy of having other people with cancer, in the same boat, which is a terrible cliche, but it's true. The sailing on these trips isn't the point. The point to come on the trip is the people you're surrounded with, and the boat is just a wonderful vessel to allow these conversations to happen.

“It's a good distraction. Like you're pulling in the ropes and then a moment later you're talking about these dark things and making jokes that I probably can't say here. But it makes sense when you're here on a trip. It's hilarious when you're here. If other people overheard, they'd be a bit shocked, but for us, it's fine. That's what we need and it's what I've needed.”

Name: Jordan
Age: 24
Diagnosis: Bowel cancer

“I had bowel cancer, so it's kind of like a taboo subject to talk about, especially with younger people. I know it potentially shouldn't be, but I've always felt when I come to the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust that you can talk so openly about it, and everyone's kind of the same.

“I know there's a lot of other people who have different cancers that not many young people have as well, so we've been able to talk about that a bit more. It's just opening up really, because there's not so much support when you finish cancer treatment. It's kind of like, throw you out there and hope for the best.

“But like charities like this are really important because you can connect with other people and realise it's not just you and you're not on your own and actually you can still do a lot of the things you could do before.”

Name: Lily
Age: 10
Diagnosis: Pilocytic astrocytoma (brain tumour)

“On my first trip, I think the thing that shocked me the most was how many people, even just quite near me, even in England, there are that have been through something even nearly like I have.

“Being at the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust makes me feel safe and it also makes me feel happier because I don't have to explain to everyone, ‘this is why I'm like this’. I love making new friends quicker, because usually it can take like two years to make a friend but now, in five days and I've made some lifetime friends, probably better than some I've known for years.

“Being closer to them makes me feel more at home and more confident each time I come back, which is why I like the fact they're yearly because you can keep on coming back. It means I can enjoy all of the benefits again and again. It's like a little flower with all the happiness waiting to open, and then it finally opens and it's amazing.”