The Pyne family with Nicole and Bill Mackay before heading out whale watching. Alice Pyne

Whale of a time for inspirational teenager

Whale watching in McNeill ticks the final item off remarkable teen's bucket list.

PORT MCNEILL— It’s not every day that dreams come true but, thanks to Mackay Whale Watching in Port McNeill, one inspirational teen has lived hers.

Alice Pyne of Cumbria, England, became an internet sensation after the terminally ill teen created a bucket list blog. The 16-year-old drew thousands of followers who signed up on her blog, Facebook and Twitter to read about her struggle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and her journey through her bucket list. Her blog alone has had more than four million hits.

One of the main items on her list was whale watching, something of a pipe dream since the teen was unable to travel due to her condition. This prompted one of the teen’s fans to ask Nicole Mackay if there was any way she could help. Mackay asked friends to donate videos and photos from whale watching trips, and created a virtual trip for Pyne, which she then posted on Youtube. This began a friendship between the pair, and they remained in regular contact.

By the end of a remarkable year, which saw the teen visit Cadbury World, meet the band Take That, and swim with sharks, to name a few, she was left with just one item still to tick— whale watching.

Between financial concerns and health issues, the teen did not expect to be able to complete her list, so she left instruction for her mother to spread her ashes in Johnstone Strait after she passed.

After Pyne’s doctor predicted a narrow window where she could remain active, her mother, Vicky, swung into action. Vicky emailed Mackay to make arrangements for a trip, saying “We have just returned from the hospital today and things are moving on and they have told me that if we’re doing anything, to do it soon.

So, like any sensible parent (we are a little mad), we are now considering loading our credit card up (I am still smiling as I write that), jumping on a plane this coming weekend and flying out to Vancouver.I don’t think either of us can bear it if she doesn’t get to see her dream — I think the whale thing is the last unfulfilled item on her list.”

Soon after, the family were winging across the Atlantic, bound for Port McNeill.

“It didn’t feel real,” said Mackay. “My whole family was thrilled to meet them, it must have been a bit overwhelming, thinking back on it now. As they walked down the dock towards the boat, Alice kept saying, ‘It’s just like my video! I can’t believe I’m here!’ Then came the whales — Alice’s final bucket list item was being completed in front of my eyes, and she couldn’t have looked any happier.”

Later that day, Peter Barrett of West Coast Helicopters donated a flight for the family to see the North Island from the air. On their week-long visit, the family also took in lunch at Telegraph Cove before heading up to Whistler.

Alice described the experience on her blog, “We had the most amazing few days and Nicole and her family really looked after us. I just couldn’t believe that I was actually there. I’m sure that the whales heard that I was about, cos they came out and I know that we’ll all remember it forever. It was such a magical and relaxing place. Thank you Nicole, Bill and Donna (and thank you for letting me wear your snuggly North Face coat)!”

Pyne has used her fame to raise awareness and funds for charities and, along with her sister Milly, will be honoured with the British Empire Medal. As part of her efforts she has increased the number of names on the UK’s bone marrow registry by 40,000, met UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, to discuss the issues facing cancer sufferers, raised over £100,000 ($156,000) for charity, and launched her own charity, Alice’s Escapes.

“She is an amazing young woman with grit, courage and determination,” as Mackay put it. “I am forever changed for having met her.”

Pyne’s blog, Alice’s Bucket List, can be found at alicepyne.blogspot.ca, and her charity can be found at www.alices-escapes.co.uk. Alice’s Escapes work to provide free holidays in the Lake District for families with a seriously ill child.

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