20 April 2023

My Life Now - meet Zoology student Amber

It’s been 20 years since the Trust first set sail – what are the young people who have been on trips up to now? Our 'My Life Now' series shows a positive future after cancer is a reality. Amber felt like a huge weight was lifted after her first sailing adventure, her passion for the outdoors was reignited, as was her hope for the future.

Amber smiling on a sailing adventure next to the Spinnaker Tower in PortsmouthName: Amber Clifton

Age: 21

Diagnosis/year: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia in 2013

When did you first sail with the Trust? 2014

What you do now? I am currently in my third year studying BSc Zoology at the University of Exeter.

Explain what that means? I essentially study all things related to animals. The degree covers everything from genetics and microorganisms, to mammals, marine biology and the conservation of entire ecosystems.

Why did you do want to do this? I've always been obsessed with animals and nature for as long as I can remember.

What's the coolest thing you've done lately? I recently went on a field trip to Alaska and Canada as part of my degree. I saw so many amazing species including orcas, grizzly bears, sea otters, and bald eagles. We even saw the Northern Lights one day; it was a dream come true.

Why did you need the Trust's support in recovery? I was diagnosed with cancer right before I was supposed to start year seven. I missed a lot of school and found it hard to fit in when all people knew about me was that I had cancer.

When I went on my first trip it was like this huge weight was lifted, I was able to just act like a 'normal' kid again and have fun learning new things and meeting new people.

Cancer is incredibly isolating because unless people have gone through it, they can never truly relate to your experiences. On the trips everyone understands what you've gone through. You can talk openly about your experiences with cancer, but at the same time there's no pressure to share. It really helped to rebuild my confidence by showing me I wasn't alone.

One of the best things about the Trust is that they invite you back for Return Trips. They were so important for me, it gave me something to look forward to each summer, knowing I could go back to the 'bubble' of the Trust. Since I did my first trip so much has changed in my life, from finishing (maintenance) treatment to starting college and then university; it was comforting to know that amongst all that, the Trust was this constant presence that was always there for me. Seeing my old friends again, making new ones and learning new skills each summer was such an important part of helping me adjust to the 'new normal' of life after cancer.

Amber sat next to a beautiful lake in AlaskaWhat part has the Trust played in you doing what you are doing now?

When you have cancer it's hard to imagine what the future might look like when you're so preoccupied with just surviving each day. Meeting former young people supported by the Trust who have since come back to volunteer, on my trips really helped me by showing me it’s possible to have a career and a normal life after treatment.

During treatment I spent a lot of time indoors, in the hospital and at home, it was hard to imagine working with nature when I never got the chance to go out and see it. Going sailing and being surrounded by nature helped rekindle my love of the outdoors. The trips also made going to university seem like a less daunting prospect, I was used to spending time away from home with other young people, so moving away for uni didn't seem as scary.

What's your top tip for a young people interested in working in your industry?

Don't be afraid to just get stuck in! There are so many ways to get involved from, going to university, or even just volunteering with a local wildlife charity. Find something that suits you and don't be afraid to go at your own pace.