Dame Ellen MacArthur has emotional reunion with one of the first young people to ever sail with her cancer charity

Dame Ellen MacArthur, founder and patron of the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust, has had a profound 20-year reunion with one of the first young people her charity ever supported in 2003.

Maxine Duggins was just 10-years-old when she went on a transformational sailing trip from the Isle of Wight with the charity after she was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma – a type of bone and soft tissue cancer. Now 30, she and Ellen emotionally reconnected in London to discuss the significant impact of that support, which she credits for the direction her life has taken ever since.

Ellen had taken a photo of Maxine with her when she broke the record and became the fastest solo sailor to sail around the world, so talking with her again all these years later was deeply moving.

She said: “The memory of Maxine on that trip remains one of the most vibrant of all the Trust trips I’ve been on. When she arrived, she was so fearful of doing anything. She almost seemed brittle, because she’d had such a horrific operation. I’ll never forget her telling me about it. But as the days went by, she wasn’t brittle anymore. Physically and mentally. It became about what she could do.

“The trip was so profound, and I was there from the moment her mum dropped her off to the moment she picked her up. I saw that transformation. It summed up everything the Trust is about, it really did.

“It feels like yesterday, but then when I think back to everything the Trust has done since and all those other transformational moments, then I can put it into perspective. Thousands of young people have been through that same transformation since.”

Ellen set up her cancer trust in 2003 after being invited to go sailing with children recovering from cancer in France in the late ’90s. It was while with this charity, A Chacun Son Cap, she immediately knew the UK needed something just like it. She realised sailing, the biggest love in her life, could be transformational in so many other incredible ways too, including for young people in need.

The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust, which inspires young people to believe in a brighter future after their treatment ends, is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2023. Yet, the impact of a cancer diagnosis on a young person’s life is still not talked about enough.

Life post-treatment is something that can be as difficult as, if not even more so, than the treatment itself. That is why the charity’s work is vital in creating a community where young people who have had a cancer diagnosis feel they are understood and belong.

When Maxine arrived for the very first sailing adventure in 2003, she struggled to say goodbye to her mum, and says they had become co-dependent during her illness. Ellen saw their hesitancy and wondered to herself: “Are we doing the right thing?”

Ellen and Maxine in 2006

Maxine believes her mum had the same worry. “But it was the best decision she could have made,” she said. “I met the people at the Trust. I met the other kids. Magic happened. I don’t know how else to explain it. The atmosphere was enjoyment and fun, which was just so lacking in my life. I was in such a depressed state, then suddenly there was joy again.

“The Trust gives you back a bit of your personality. School was on pause, so my life was just treatment. You go on a sailing trip, have this new experience, learn all different kinds of things and you’re able to share that. Now there was another layer to my life that wasn’t about cancer, it was about silliness and fun. It gave me hope there is life after cancer, still fun to be had, still enjoyment. This isn’t going to be my world forever. There are still good times.

“Because I was a child, I didn’t necessarily recognise the positive changes that were happening to me immediately. It’s something you look back on and realise there has been a profound transformation. I don’t know if I can quantify how the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust has impacted my life now, but there’s no doubt that it has.”


Since 2003, the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust has supported 3,137 young people like Maxine. If you can, please donate this Christmas to support more young people to believe in a brighter future at https://www.ellenmacarthurcancertrust.org/donate/

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