Twenty-one year old Jenni Palmer says she learned some powerful lessons from her first hand experience with cancer, and also from sailing on the tall ship Spirit of NZ.
She is hoping to connect the two by providing a young person affected by cancer with a voyage on the Spirit. To make that happen, she is running a marathon.
Currently in her final year of a Bachelor of Science (neuroscience and biochemistry major) at Otago University, Jenni has lived on the Hibiscus Coast her whole life.
Last year she was diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells. She says getting cancer “isn’t what you expect for your second year of university and it certainly made life take an interesting direction”.
After several months of chemotherapy, Jenni was given the all clear in May, on her 21st birthday.
She says of course the news was “the best birthday present ever” but that she had also gained a lot from the experience. “I’ve learnt some pretty powerful lessons about perseverance, keeping positive, the strength in friendship and the importance of the relationships you have with those around you, which is something that I think will last with me far longer than most of the side effects of treatment,” Jenni says.
Almost straight after she got the all-clear, Jenni put on her running shoes and began training – on September 1, she will run the Dunedin Marathon, 42.2km, with the goal of raising $2500 or more to pay for a young person affected by cancer to go on a Spirit of NZ trip.
The non-profit Spirit of Adventure Trust offers voyages for youth on the Spirit of NZ that aim to develop positive qualities, provide challenges and demonstrate care for the environment.
Jenni first sailed on the ship in 2015 as an Orewa College student, thanks to a Pinnacle Programme scholarship, and went on to become a crew volunteer.
“Spirit came at a very important time when I, like many other teenagers, was struggling with fitting in. I learned that it doesn’t matter whether or not you look, talk or act the same as other people, nor whether you’re interested in the same things. I became comfortable with being fully myself. The confidence and positive attitude that comes from that helped me through so many different aspects of life, including my cancer.”
She says the voyage could help the young person she selects in many ways.
“It’s really hard to escape being known as ‘that kid who had cancer’ or ‘that kid whose Mum died’. On Spirit you have a chance to just be yourself without sympathy or preconceived ideas that you can’t do something,” she says.
She says there is also a bit of a gap in support for teenagers affected by cancer at the moment. “CanTeen does a great job but is currently undergoing a restructuring which means some people aren’t getting as much help as they need. I’m hoping that the young person who is awarded this scholarship will not only gain personal benefits, but will be able to contribute back to this community and help others in similar situations.”
To find potential candidates, Jenni has provided application information to CanTeen, the Cancer Society and other cancer-support services.
“The application is just a few questions about the person’s journey and challenges – I’m really looking forward to hearing all those amazing stories,” Jenni says.
Before her illness, Jenni had done “a bit of running for fun” including two half marathons, but a full marathon is by far the biggest she has tackled. So far she says her training is going well, despite the Dunedin winter.
“Training is going better than I thought it would – it’s really incredible to compare where my health and fitness is now compared to this time last year. We’re really lucky to have a beautiful harbour cycleway where I do a lot of my runs. It reminds me of aspects of the Orewa Estuary cycleway. And even a marathon has to be easier than last year!”
Info/application forms: email firstname.lastname@example.org
To support Jenni’s marathon fundraiser, look for ‘Giving teens affected by cancer the experience of a lifetime’ on the Everyday Hero website – www.everydayhero.com/nz/