Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Yachtswoman: Sailing helped me cope with the 'hell of cancer'

By Anouk Lorie for CNN
Yachtswoman Ellen Pontin, who kept sailing as she battled breast cancer.
Yachtswoman Ellen Pontin, who kept sailing as she battled breast cancer.
  • Emma Pontin will launch the 2850-passenger "Celebrity Eclipse" cruise liner next week
  • Professional skipper hopes to inspire others suffering from cancer with her story
  • Pontin is planning a round-the-world voyage with 42 other breast cancer survivors
  • Pontin: "We've got to think 'I fought for my life, now I'm going to live it'"
  • Sailing
  • Breast Cancer
  • Cancer

London, England (CNN) -- A round-the-world yachtswoman who beat breast cancer says that sailing helped her cope with the "hell of cancer."

Lawyer-turned-skipper Emma Pontin who refused to give up sailing despite undergoing a double mastectomy in 2007.

She says the sport took her far away from her chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments and made her feel "alive."

Pontin was talking ahead of her latest project to raise awareness of the disease: launching a cruise liner. She is to name the 2850-passenger "Celebrity Eclipse" next week.

Pontin -- whose sailing achievements include a round-the-world race and several transatlantic crossings -- was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2006 as she was about to embark on a race.

Despite having to drop out of that race, Pontin continued sailing professionally. "It was my lifeline," she told CNN.

"The diagnosis blew me out of the water," Pontin said. "I didn't want to die. So I got up and continued to do my job and I realized that the more I continued sailing, the more I could mentally take on the hell of cancer."

Pontin likens sailing to "pure escapism."

"The water took me as far away from my treatments as possible. One minute I was undergoing chemotherapy and the next minute I was on the water. That made me feel free and alive," she told CNN.

As "Godmother" of "Celebrity Eclipse," Pontin hopes her story will help others affected by breast cancer.

I fought for my life, now I'm going to live it.
--Emma Pontin

"Emma is an outstanding individual with an incredible zest for life and is an inspiration to women from all walks of life," Richard D. Fain, Chairman of Celebrity Cruises told CNN.

Pontin is the second cancer awareness ambassador to be nominated by the upscale cruise company, Celebrity Cruises. Cancer survivor and founder of UK cancer charity "Walk the Walk," Nina Barough serves as "Godmother" to liner, "Celebrity Equinox."

"[Emma's] determination to make every day count, her courage and her positive attitude amidst challenging sailings, even during times of adversity, is tremendously empowering for other women and their families."

Pontin, who wrote the book "Beating the Blowfish" about her fight with the disease, wants to share her love of the sea with others.

The 40-year-old is planning another round-the-world voyage, but this time with 42 men and women who have suffered from breast cancer.

And unlike previous races, Pontin and her crew will be taking their time. The voyage, which she is planning to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October 2011, will be almost a year long.

"I want people to understand that if you go through breast cancer, you can do anything. Some people who've had breast cancer or going through it just sit at home all day, on their sofas and don't know how to handle it.

"And I want to tell this people: 'Do something amazing, cross an ocean, bring it on!"

"And the truth is," said Pontin, "We've got to think 'I fought for my life, now I'm going to live it.'"