Posted on Wednesday 12 August 2020

Kira’s story: “I was sure I didn’t want anything to affect my education”

This Thursday (13 August) Kira will be receiving her A-Level exam results. Due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, this results day is unlike any other. However, after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the start of Year 12, Kira has had to face many other challenges in the lead up to this week’s results day.

So determined to do her exams and get to university, Kira would not let cancer get in the way of her doing her A-Levels. Despite her teachers’ concerns, Kira did all of her exams throughout treatment and is hoping for three As this Thursday.

Kira was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma just after starting sixth form

It was the morning of one of my GCSE exams. I had the exam in the afternoon and I woke up with intense chest pain. At first I thought it was anxiety as it was the exam I was most nervous for but it got to the point I couldn’t move. We went to A&E and they said oh it’s just anxiety, you’re really anxious for your exam. They did a bunch of tests and didn’t find anything.

I got better from that after about a week and then I started to notice a lump on my neck a month after that episode. I thought ‘that’s not right’ but at the time I hadn’t experienced anything to do with lumps so I just ignored. I thought it would go away on its own. I went through summer 2018, had the best summer of my life, but was constantly ill through it I had about four or five colds that whole summer.

When I started sixth form I noticed a lump on the other side of my neck and the other one had started to grow. I’d just started sixth form, I loved sixth form and I didn’t want someone to tell me something was wrong with me so I decided to ignore it. I thought I feel fine so it’s probably fine but in the end I started to get really worried so I booked an emergency appointment with my GP and she turned round and said it was really serious and then I got sent for a bunch of tests and I got diagnosed.

I remember when I was diagnosed I was with my sister in law. We were sat waiting for some test results and the doctor called us back into a room and they said ‘it’s lymphoma’. They were talking to us about it, what hodgkin’s lymphoma was and how serious it was and then we went downstairs and got a Costa and we both just didn’t speak about it, we were trying to process it. When I saw my brother that’s when I reacted and I just burst out into tears. That’s the first time I properly reacted to it and processed it. A week later I was like it’s fine let’s get through this let’s do this.

I underwent six months of chemotherapy, it was one cycle every month that lasted for two weeks every month. I found it quite hard. It was definitely hardest at the start because it was all really new and I didn’t know what was happening. I had three hospital admissions at the start. The easiest for me was the middle because I was used to it and I couldn’t really see the end but I was far enough from the start and I had a routine. As I was coming to the final two cycles, it got harder again because I was so close to the end but I wasn’t there yet. It went from ‘I only have this long left’ to ‘I still have to endure this for this long’

I was sure I didn’t want anything to affect my education. I had my biopsy surgery on the Friday, the day after I was diagnosed and then three days later I went back to school. I got diagnosed during October half term so I went back to school like normal. I walked into my form tutor and I said ‘I have something I need to tell you’ I just blurted it out like it was nothing, and he was so shocked. He went to go tell my Assistant Head of Sixth Form and she instantly came downstairs and she said ‘it’s fine we’ll get through this’. All my teachers would send me my work but also send me emails asking how I was.

I was very adamant from the start I didn’t want to re-sit Year 12 because at this point I had reached my sixth form goal and the next step was going to uni. At that point they became quite pushy for me to re-sit the year. My CLIC Sargent social worker was the one I went to about that. He made sure I had the choice and that I didn’t need to re-sit the year. In the end they thought ‘ok she is pretty determined and confident to continue with this year, we’ll just let her be’. At one point I didn’t mean to shout but they said we’re really worried about you and resitting the year and I just went ‘no! I’m not re-sitting the year!’ I think I had a lot of steroid, mood changes at that point.

Kira was determined to continue with her studies throughout treatment

At the start of year 12 I was doing really well but once treatment ended my grades plummeted. Everyone expected it but throughout treatment any tests I was doing I was getting Bs and As on them, I still don’t know how. When treatment ended everything hit me and my grades just plummeted and that just made me feel worse. I had just finished treatment and for the whole six months my body was trying to catch up. At the end of Year 12 I was on Ds and Es and that really hurt because I was someone who was always getting Bs and As and A*s and always a high achiever. Once I started year 13 they came all the way back up and by the time we left I was on As again so it was great. I’m hoping for three As on Thursday. I have an offer that I accepted from St George’s University in London so if I meet my conditions I can go.

My CLIC Sargent social worker supported a lot with school. He was really good especially mental health wise because throughout it all I was really positive and then once treatment ended bam it all hit me. I went from being this positive little Kira to being like ‘oh god, what is going on?’ he was the one who actually noticed it. I hadn’t fully noticed it I think I was ignoring it again like I ignored the cancer and one day he came down to see me and he said ‘you don’t seem yourself’ and he asked me a bunch of questions and made sure I was ok and he was the one who got me help and got me to speak to someone. That helped massively and that’s one of the reasons my grades went back up because he helped me get the help.

When covid was getting big over here it got to the stage in school that everyday I would get asked ‘has your doctor said it’s ok for you to be here, are you fine to be here?’ I said no my a-levels are so soon I have to be here. There was one point, a week before school shut, our law lesson classrooms got shut down because apparently someone had covid in them, they didn’t it was just suspected. I was told not to go in the Sixth Form block and if they saw me in there they would expel me. That was really scary, that was the first time I thought I’ll have to choose between my education and my health and obviously I would have chosen my health no matter what but my education had been my everything for my whole life, I didn’t want to make this choice. That’s why I didn’t make the choice with cancer, I did both at the same time.

The day I left school was the worst day ever, I went in expecting it to be a normal day. I had a bunch of teachers saying Kira you shouldn’t be here and I said I haven’t had a call from my doctor yet, it’s fine. I was about to go into assembly and I got pulled aside and they said we have to send you home. I didn’t get a chance to even say goodbye to anyone. I was getting messages like ‘hey where are you?’ and I had been sent home.

The last day of sixth form was really hard, the past seven years of my life had come to an end and I didn’t even get to be there to say goodbye. The loss of my exams, I thought I would be happy about but I was so devastated I had worked so hard during year 12 throughout cancer treatment to sit those exams now I’m not, it felt like everything I had done was wasted, which wasn’t true but at the time it just felt like the end of the world. It felt like even though I’m completely clear, cancer is still taking stuff from me. Within 24 hours my whole education came to a halt and I found that hard to deal with because I really wanted to sit the exams and then I was worried what my grades were going to be because obviously my year 12 grades weren’t the best.

I’m feeling quite optimistic about my results, I go through phases where some days I’m optimistic and then some days I think no, that’s it, I’m not getting in let’s get a plan B.

I’m hoping I get the grades I need to do the medical degree at St George’s University. When I got diagnosed with cancer and I was around doctors and nurses in hospital all the time and speaking to them about everything I thought I want to do what people have done for me and I want to do it for other people.

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