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A sunhat on her head and a content grin on her face, Fran Eppig takes a deep breath and relaxes.
“This is perfect. Just beautiful,” she says to her fellow sailors on the 43-foot Fountaine Pajot catamaran Dreamweaver.
Eppig, diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2009, is a strong woman. She’s a triathlete, having partnered with her two daughters in the Wildflower Triathlon in Bradley, California. Fran did the swimming section of the race, earning a You Rock souvenir rock to remind her of her potential.
On May 24, Sailing Heals at the Eastport Yacht Club gave Eppig and 50 other cancer-fighters from Wellness House in Annapolis a spirit-lifting day on the water.
That’s the mission of the non-profit Sailing Heals, which supports people and caregivers dealing with the effects of a serious illness or injury.
This program was started in 2011 by twins Trisha Gallagher-Boisvert and Michele Gallagher in recognition for all the help their mother had during her 14 years with cancer.
“It’s a great way to remind people that there’s life beyond cancer and to get them away from some of their stress and treatment to build other memories,” Gallagher-Boisvert said.
From Marblehead, Massachusetts, Sailing Heals has spread to nine states and two dozen ports around the country.
For Eastport Yacht Club’s spring sail, 12 boats, captains and crew volunteered. Josh Young sponsored lunch.
“The members of this club are so generous and so committed to this,” said yacht club and Sailing Heals member Pam Ray. “The people who stepped forward first were also cancer survivors, so they get it.”
This was Sailing Heals ninth twice-yearly sail with the Eastport Yacht Club. Guests are invited by Wellness House, a non-profit founded by reconstructive surgeon Kelly Sullivan to provide support and healing for people touched by cancer.
Wellness House offers “things that people love and need but tend to give up for themselves,” said program director Betsy Jenkins.
Since joining five years ago, Eppig has taken part in book clubs, painting classes, tea times and more. The former nurse practitioner says she enjoys “doing something to help others, so I’m not just inside my own head all the time.”
On her day with Sailing Heals, she and all the others got outside on the great Chesapeake.