For the very sick, sailing a chance to ‘refuel their souls’

Katelyn McSherry’s memories of her mother on the water stretch back to when she was growing up in Portsmouth.

“Growing up, we always had a boat,” she said.

When her mother, Beth McSherry Goyette, was diagnosed with lung cancer, she and her daughter found themselves back out on a boat in 2015. This time, though, someone else was doing all the work, allowing Goyette to revel in the experience.

Goyette began going out on the water through the efforts of Sailing Heals, a nonprofit based in Salem, Mass., that pairs people suffering from cancer or other serious illnesses and their caretakers with boat captains and owners.

Goyette went on about seven trips with the group before her death at age 56 in November. The prospect of a sail never failed to energize her, even on days when she was struggling.

“She loved them,” McSherry said. “It really took your mind off of everything. You were on the water, even though you were with other sick people … but it was never sad.”

Cheryl Thorpe had been sick for a year or two when Sailing Heals invited her and her family out.

Her father, Joe Geisser, had been around boats for decades and immediately grasped the value of the experience.

“It was a truly magical trip for us,” Geisser said. “In her situation at the time, which was deep in the fight of cancer – it just came at a perfect time for her.”

Sailing became an escape from the crushing reality of Thorpe’s disease, and a way for her to enjoy time with her son, who was 7 years old when she was diagnosed with fallopian tube cancer. Thorpe, of Cumberland, died last April, when her son was 15.

The son had spent half of his life with his mother sick, and his mother jumped at any opportunity to create good memories with him, Geisser said.