Education and Cancer

Home Education and Cancer
29 Sep, 2021
  • Teens

Education and Cancer

Cancer brings its own set of challenges to a young person undergoing treatment, one of these being what happens to their education and returning to their studies. 

Ciara was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia just before her 17th Birthday; two months before she was due to sit her AS-Level exams. She shares her experiences of battling treatment, her health and her studies and the journey she has been on to achieve her dream of studying Population and Geography at University:

"It had always been a personal goal of mine to go to university to study Geography and I was determined that my cancer was not going to prevent me from achieving this. I decided to sit my AS exams as an in-patient at the Royal Marsden as they coincided with my chemotherapy cycle. 

In September 2016 I had my stem cell transplant and had to take a year’s break from studying. I had a lot of complications from my treatment, which meant I was an inpatient for over a year. Once home, I realised how much life had changed since my diagnosis. I had lost a huge amount of independence, whereas lots of my friends were preparing to go to university, which was hard to come to terms with as that was my goal. 

In September 2017, I finally returned to sixth form which was nerve-wracking, but I was excited to be back with people my own age again. I had to move to my local Sixth Form as I couldn’t travel on public transport or cycle (like I used to) to my previous Sixth Form which was further away from home.

My time there was short lived - I became very unwell with a series of infections and it was advised that I finished all my A-Levels from home. Despite my ill health I was determined that I was going to university the following year, so decided to apply. At the time I felt that I had nothing to lose by applying and that if I wasn’t well enough to go, I could always defer or re-apply the following year.

It was so upsetting and frustrating that my cancer treatment had come in the way of me getting back to some sort of normality even if I knew studying from home was the right thing to do to keep me well and safe. It was during this period that the activities organised by Teens Unite became even more important as I was still isolated from people my own age. 

I felt a huge pressure to perform in my exams, as the A Level specification had changed whilst I was having my stem cell transplant, so this was my last chance to sit the old style of specification exams. I taught myself and had an hour of private tutoring each week. 

My hard work paid off – I achieved the grades to go to Southampton University to study Population and Geography, my first choice.

Once I had confirmed my place at university, I contacted the Enabling Services Team who were amazing at arranging additional support. I would recommend other young people who have experienced cancer doing this. They helped with finding suitable accommodation, parking permits and exam arrangements.

I started a new treatment in my first year of uni, which was in London over two days every fortnight. I would stay overnight and return to Southampton the following day. My treatment combined with other hospital appointments meant I missed quite a lot of university which was frustrating, but necessary! My lecturers were really understanding – I would email them at the beginning of each semester to make them aware of my situation and I would recommend to others that you keep communicating with them or ask your Student Support Team to do this on your behalf.  

I have really enjoyed university despite having to juggle studying, treatment and appointments. It has been great to meet new people, be part of societies and learn more about a subject I am passionate about. I have now returned to university in Southampton for my final year!

It is still possible to go to university and have a great time, even if you are still having to manage the side effects from your treatment like me. Utilise the people around you, such as your student support team, tutor, and friends/family. Going to university can seem really daunting once you have had a life-threatening illness, but I think I have grown so much academically and personally. 

As always, your Teens Unite family will be there to support you every step of the way." 


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