It’s a more sedate way of life on the canals, and four young people who have all had treatment for brain tumours enjoyed five days meandering along the Essex waterways on our latest widening access trip last week (29 October – 2 November).
Launched in 2016 in partnership with CanalAbility, widening access gives young people with more severe mobility issues or who don’t yet have the confidence to join a Trust sailing trip the chance to get all the same benefits of being on a boat with others who have been through similar things, but in a smaller group with more one-to-one support.
This year’s quartet took full advantage of the chance to make new friends, push their physical boundaries opening locks and helming and do a LOT of baking as they cruised the rivers Stort and Lee, passing through the Rye Meads Nature Reserve, on CanalAbility’s specially-adapted, wheelchair friendly 67ft canal boat, Red Watch.
For 16-year-old Mary Isherwood, this was her first Trust trip. Having had more than two years of treatment at the Children’s Hospital for Wales after being diagnosed with a Craniopharyngioma in April 2014, she couldn’t believe the difference the trip made.
Mary said: “You don’t meet people in the same situation as you every day but, on this trip, we feel like normal people. In the outside world we feel like the odd ones out with brain tumours, but when we get on the boat we can be ourselves, we don’t have to be people we’re not and it’s just so nice. These are people who understand how I feel, I understand how they feel, and we can share it.
“You have to go through the experience (of treatment) to know what it feels like, you can’t assume. I feel so much more confident, that I can take the tumour and rule it. Now I feel I can go home and not worry about the people who don’t understand. I’m taking my life back and I want to do this trip over and over again.”
Like Mary, 12-year-old Rowan Todd, who underwent treatment twice in six years for an Optic Pathway Glioma after being diagnosed aged three, found friendships hard when she went back to school. Her five Trust trips, including all three canal trips, have helped her rediscover her social confidence.
She said: “I missed a lot of school and the first time I went back there was this kind of stigma around me. It was hard when I’d spend break time looking for my friends and they wouldn’t come and hang out with me. Knowing there are other people who’ve been through similar or the same things as you is really reassuring. After each trip I’m feel like I’m building my confidence up.”
As well as baking and getting involved in all the different aspects of canal boating, the young people celebrated Halloween by making hats and carving pumpkins, although their creations met a messy end getting squashed on a low bridge! They also undertook day-to-day tasks they might not ordinarily do themselves, such as getting dressed, showering and cooking, promoting independence.
Louis Donohue, 16, has also done all three canal trips having first sailed with the Trust in Cowes in 2013 following treatment for a Medullablastoma. He likes the pace of river life.
Louis said: “After my first trip I saw a bit of a difference in myself, I was more chilled out and calm. It really helped my confidence and independence and I could have a bit more fun and a laugh. This trip is more calm and quiet. It’s nice having a rest from the real world. You can leave it at home.”
And 15-year-old Llywelyn Bowmer, who was on his first canal trip, agrees. He said: “Learning new things and reading were the biggest challenges I had after treatment. It’s the feeling everyone has had the same and I’m not the only one that’s different. We’re all gathered together like a family. I enjoyed every single day of it, but I was looking forward to having a hot shower when I got home!”