By Jen A. Miller
Survivor at Sea
A cancer survivor and her family set out to sail the world
By Jen A. Miller
YOUR AVERAGE FAMILY
“ … Every cruising family we’ve ever met, including ourselves, has gone to great lengths to convince friends and family that moving aboard a boat, yanking kids out of their lives, leaving secure jobs and a loving community, just so we could cut the dock lines and go off in search of adventure, is a perfectly sane thing to do. In fact—we’ve probably all pointed out—there are lots and lots of rational, ordinary people out cruising. Families who are just as normal and average as the ones we went to play groups and birthday parties with.
The thing is—none of us really believes this.
—May 30, 2010
Selkirk has always loved being on the water. She sailed dinghies as a kid and took sailing classes after school. In college, she became a sailing instructor. That’s how she met her husband, another instructor.
In 1996, the couple embarked on their first cruising trip, a 3.5-year journey that took them to Alaska, Mexico, Central America, the Panama Canal and the Western Caribbean. They finished in Annapolis, Md., and were living there when Maia was born in 2001.
“It felt like an unfinished trip,” says Selkirk. “It was always our intention to circumnavigate [the world], and we always planned to keep going.”
Maia tells her friends that she was born on a boat, even if she was actually born in a Maryland hospital. She was on the family’s boat soon after.
“She’s always been really attached to the story of who she is,” says Selkirk. “The story she’s told all her friends is that someday [she’s] going to get on a boat and sail around the world.”
A PSA BREAK FROM MY REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOG POST
Three years ago I was diagnosed with melanoma. We caught it early. Stage one is easy to fix. The problem is, when you are diagnosed with melanoma before your 40th birthday the possibility of recurrence is very high. Which means I get my skin checked every six months.
—March 26, 2010
As a kid, Selkirk tried to be like her darker-skinned sisters. “They would tan and I would blister,” she says. “My mum tried to get us sunscreen. You could get it from the pharmacist, but only an 8 SPF and probably not a broad spectrum.” T-shirts didn’t work either, and she says she had about three serious sunburns a year until she turned 20.
By the time she was in college, she began to take serious care to protect her skin from the sun. “People started to understand how serious sunburns were at that point. I was always the kid in the long sleeve T-shirt when everyone else had a bikini on,” she says.
The turning point from caution to checkups was when a close friend died of melanoma. “He had a mole on his arm and kept going to his doctor, and he kept telling him it was nothing,” she says. ”When he finally did convince them to remove the mole, it was stage III melanoma.”
Before Selkirk’s friend died, he made her promise that she would get annual checkups. “I started going faithfully the year he was diagnosed,” she says.
(photos: Courtesy of Diane Selkirk and Evan Gatehouse)