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Story of a survivor: Marleen (20) overcame Hodgkin's and soon sails the world

Rewind to fall 2019. Marleen feels unwell, not herself. 'I was on a school sailing trip and noticed I had less energy than usual. I also had trouble with my eyes; my vision decreased, sometimes completely disappearing. I couldn't place these symptoms, but cancer was the last thing on my mind.' 

Chemotherapy and quarantine  
It turns out to be cancer: Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer in the lymphatic system. A six-month intensive treatment follows. 'In May 2020, I had my last scan, and we thought the cancer was gone. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, I learned it was back. I ended up in the Máxima Center again, undergoing chemotherapy, which made me very sick. I was always listless and tired. I was in the 11th grade and desperately wanted to pass so I could stay with my friends. I tried to keep up with the coursework, but it just wasn't possible; I eventually had to repeat the year.' 

'What didn't help was the rapid spread of COVID-19 at that time. Being vulnerable, I couldn't go outside. Friends, and even my sisters, couldn't visit. They lived in dorms, and it was too risky for me to see them physically. My sisters once quarantined for ten days so we could spend a week on vacation together. That was very special to me.' 

Ultimate freedom  
Despite the tough treatments, Marleen emphasizes there were also beautiful moments. 'During the summer, I received immunotherapy, which made me feel relatively well. For example, I drew a lot of energy from sailing. I'd go to Friesland and hop on a boat. Once a day, I had to get an injection from my parents onshore, but apart from that, I felt ultimate freedom sailing across the Frisian lakes.' 

After finishing her treatment in November, Marleen quickly resumed her life. 'For instance, I immediately started playing hockey again. It helped me regain energy and find myself. It took a while; I had lost over 15 kilos and my hair. Slowly but surely, I improved every week, and half a year later, I felt: yes, I'm back. To an extent, as the disease left mental and physical marks. For example, I have a weaker immune system and find it harder to concentrate.' 

Clipper Ocean Race  
These challenges don't stop Marleen from doing extraordinary things: this spring, a unique sailing trip is on her calendar. 'I'm participating in the Clipper Ocean Race, a sailing competition where eleven sailboats travel around the world in ten months. The crew members are from different countries and, except for the captain and the boatswain, have no professional sailing experience. For the first time, a boat with the Princess Máxima Center logo is participating: the Perseverance. The team aims to raise awareness for childhood cancer and funds for the Princess Máxima Center.' 

A sponsor supportive of the Princess Máxima Center enables childhood cancer survivors to sail as crew members. 'I'm one of the eight survivors participating in a leg of the race. I've already trained for a month in England, and in April, I'll join the Perseverance in Seattle. We'll sail to the Panama Canal, pass through it, and then head north. About a month and a half after leaving Seattle, we'll arrive in Washington. I'm really looking forward to it; this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!' 

A World Full of Adventures  
'With my story, I want to show my peers at the Máxima Center: there's a world full of adventures waiting for you after this tough period. Until then, my advice is: accept all the love and especially all the gifts and chocolate bars you receive. Draw energy from things that are important to you and keep faith in the future. My story proves that a time comes when you can chase your dreams.' 

Want to support Marleen and the other survivors in their action for the Máxima Center? You can find their campaign page here.

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