Miriam Seitler

Law Student

Cambridge, United Kingdom

I did not want to miss a year of my life, receiving pity from those around me. I wanted to continue.

I had just started my second year studying at Cambridge University when I was faced with news I never expected. A lump in my neck—one that doctors had reassured me was "nothing to worry about"—turned out to be cancer. I would require 6 months of chemotherapy.

The word "cancer" was almost unbelievable. After the shock, I was also struck by this thought: my dreams didn't have room for cancer. I had so much I wanted to achieve and so many goals I wanted to chase. I simply did not have time for this.

I was faced with the difficult job of telling my friends and family. Then, I had to sort out what to do with my studies. Could I continue in Cambridge and take five exams at the end of the year? My doctor advised against it, as did my parents and university supervisors. I realized that the year ahead would not be as I had expected. Treatment was to start immediately and studying was to stop immediately.

Doctors and teachers reassured me that taking some time off to recover and relax would be the best thing and might even be enjoyable. I could not think of anything worse. I did not want to miss a year of my life, receiving pity from those around me. I wanted to continue.

Together with my parents, I attempted to persuade the university to allow me to remain at Cambridge and study only half the course. At the end of the year I would take two exams. It was a struggle to persuade them to agree. The college did not want a cancer patient under their supervision; the health risks were too high. They were also concerned I would not have the energy or time to study properly.

Furthermore, I was fighting the university even as I myself felt unsure. Treatment hadn't started yet, and I had no idea how it would make me feel. Neither did the doctors. It was a risk for the university and for me too. Eventually I was successful in persuading them—but I didn't know what to expect.

Treatment began and I was up and down from Cambridge to London every other week. It made me feel tired and nauseous, but to a much lesser degree than I had expected. I was able to read, eat and socialize exactly as I used to. I slept a lot and rested a lot, but I also worked hard on my studies. I was glad to be preoccupied with the work and friends around me in Cambridge. It gave me focus, and it gave me purpose. Completing my exams at the end of term felt like a personal triumph.

I took a risk to continue studying while undergoing treatment, and it paid off. I was successful in my exams—and more importantly, I made a full recovery. Every person facing a disease like cancer must make the choices that are right for them. But I am proud that I made the decision that was right for me.

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