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Cancer Survivor Sets Sail on New Course

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After surviving a life-threatening brain tumor, any other challenge for Melissa McClelland, 13, could be considered easy by comparison.

And McClelland continues to challenge herself.

Along with her 14 year-old brother, Jason, Melissa recently completed the Pacific Corinthian Youth Foundation’s introductory sailing course at Channel Islands Harbor.

“You wouldn’t know that she was blind unless someone told you,” said Matt Schuman, one of the foundation’s sailing coaches. “I think that probably makes her feel best.”

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“When she first decided she wanted to do it, I thought it was pretty daring of her,” said Melissa’s mother, Debbie McClelland.

When Melissa was 8, she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and began an arduous treatment program, including surgery, a year of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation treatment. One of the possible side effects came to pass, as the radiation treatment left her legally blind.

In the five years since her brain tumor battle, Melissa has adapted in many ways.

Her heightened sense of hearing helps compensate for her vision, and she is loath to use a cane, family members say.

“Melissa has her ups and downs at times, but she likes to prove that she can do things herself,” her mother said.

Melissa and Jason were introduced to the youth sailing program after their grandparents, who live at Channel Islands Harbor, saw the youth foundation’s training course in action.

According to her coaches, Melissa needed very little assistance, and did not allow her limited vision to hinder her.

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In the two-week program, young boys and girls learn the basics of rigging, maneuvering and sailing skills in small sabot-class boats. While most students learn individually, Melissa and Jason have sailed together.

“It’s fun for us, but every now and then, we get on each other’s nerves,” said Melissa, who quickly learned the crucial knot-tying skills that are essential to sailing.

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