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Sail Beyond Cancer Vermont: Let the wind, water, and waves do their magic

03/10/2021 01:37PM ● By Story and photos by Whit Wales
Sail Beyond Cancer Vermont: Let the wind, water, and waves do their magic [8 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

In the darkest moments, what brings peace? What is the value of that peace?

These are questions that Suzanne Johnson asked 10 years ago as a single mother when she faced the diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer. Her answer to those questions brought life to Sail Beyond Cancer Vermont, a local program dedicated to honoring those who are challenged by cancer through harnessing the healing powers of wind, water, and sail. 

Now as a survivor, Suzanne shares, “With diagnosis and treatment comes tremendous fear, self-doubt, and stress. The value of peace with cancer? It means everything. I have come to believe that sailing, particularly in these waters, offers an opportunity to find that peace.”

On the Water

For three hours, a patient and their caregivers, family, and friends are afforded the opportunity to leave behind the land along with their cares and concerns to go for a free three-hour sail on beautiful Lake Champlain. 

A longtime sailor and USCG licensed captain, Suzanne observes, “When you turn off the engine, you’re left with the sound of nature. You can take the helm and feel the power of the sail pulling you forward, with mountains beside you. For many people, when they can’t find the strength to walk to the mailbox, this is transformative.”

Scientists now confirm the importance of diminishing stress-related cortisol in our bodies in battling disease, as it encourages healing and fosters resilience. Chris von Trapp, one of the volunteer captains, puts it another way: “This will free your mind, it will lighten the load.”

There is communion for family, friends, and caregivers as well. For the group, it provides a touchstone of tranquility in a memorable setting.

Suzanne is joined by an active board, a volunteer group of over 18 captains, and scores of well-trained crew from within the local community. All have been touched by cancer. All possess a passion for sailing. Says Suzanne, “Their commitment to making a difference one sail at a time continues to humble me.”

Benefits Galore

The gratitude from patients is deep and heartfelt. Steve Milizia from South Burlington, a self-proclaimed cancer warrior, says, “The wind that filled those sails filled me.” Abe Harrison from Winooski echoes, “You are given a feeling of freedom and power that will contribute so much to your healing.” And Linda Burns of Burlington, whose breast cancer diagnosis only just preceded her daughter’s, says simply, “It’s a golden opportunity. You will love it and you will remember it always.”

The latest NIH research shows that one out of every three among us has already had or may expect to receive a diagnosis of cancer during our lifetime, making these Lake Champlain outings all the more meaningful and relevant. On the broad and, some would say, most beautiful part of the lake, this is a unique and very special experience for anyone you may know with cancer. It is, as Suzanne understood it 10 years ago, “a gift of peace.”

Sail Beyond Cancer Vermont offers multiple sails each day of the summer season. Go to the website and nominate a friend or relative currently in treatment. You may even nominate yourself.

To learn more about how to volunteer, nominate, or donate to Sail Beyond Cancer Vermont, go to their website

Sail Beyond Cancer Vermont
PO Box 4068
Burlington, VT
(802) 825-WIND (9463)
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