WHEN Tiffany Williams was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 18 doctors advised her to delay going to university while she fights the disease.
But she chose to forge ahead with a course in tourism management at the University of Chester, juggling lectures with gruelling chemotherapy sessions.
She was declared cancer-free in April 2015 and last week she donned her gown and cap to celebrate her graduation last week alongside 3,000 fellow students.
Tiffany, from Blacon, said: “Throughout my time at university, I never excluded myself from anything and I always thought of myself as normal.
“The support systems that the University of Chester has in place for students are incredible and the teams of people behind these are amazing!
“After my three years at the University of Chester, I could not be happier that I chose to study there. The world is your oyster, anything is possible if you put your mind to it!”
Tiffany, who is now 21, originally found out she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, an uncommon blood cancer, just three months before she was due to start her course.
After many doctor’s appointments, she was recommended six months of chemotherapy and advised that it would be best to delay starting her degree.
It was then that she met Kate Northcott Spall, chief executive of The Pamela Northcott Fund, an advocacy service for cancer patients. Kate is a campaigner for cancer patient rights, as well as an advocate and mentor to teen cancer patients.
Tiffany said: “I met with Kate and told her everything. She couldn’t understand why the doctors had advised me not to attend university.
“With Kate’s help, within a month of being diagnosed, I was ready to go. She has supported me through all three years of being an undergraduate, making sure I was on track and arranging a support team for me at university too. If I ever needed someone, they were only two minutes away!”
Kate said: “It has been an honour and privilege to support and mentor Tiffany through her treatment and time at university, I hope it serves to inspire others. Tiffany has a tenacity and bravery I have rarely seen in 10 years of working with cancer patients.
“My journey with Tiffany doesn’t end here and I will be her life long cheerleader and ensure she stays well and hopefully cancer free.”
Tiffany was also supported throughout her studies by Maria Skinner, Residential Life Manager at the University of Chester.
Tiffany said: “Maria is also another great lady, whenever I had a query she pointed me to the right person, and if I needed a chat about anything, I knew I could go to her. She helped ensure my halls of residence were close to my classes so it wasn’t too tiring getting to lectures after treatment.”
Maria added: “I am always delighted to see our students do well and having seen how tenacious and brave Tiff has been, her graduation will be particularly special. When Kate first contacted me about Tiff, I asked a number of teams if they could help.
“Thank you to Robin Gallie, our Conferences Manager, who released Tiff's room early so that she could settle in before her treatment started, and to the Students' Union, who arranged fast passes for Tiff and a friend into all Freshers' activities. It meant she could do all of the fun things during Induction Week without getting too tired. Everyone at the University pulled together to do whatever they could to help. I know how much Kate has done for Tiff and we are both very proud of this remarkable young woman.”
For Tiffany, the student life experience was very different. Managing her studies around a serious illness was challenging, she would have to attend chemotherapy sessions between lectures, which left her feeling sick and fatigued.
She said: “I would have chemotherapy on a Monday, then the next day go to the library and my lectures. It wouldn’t be until two days later when I would feel horrendous with sickness, aching and fatigue. Some days I couldn’t leave my room in case of infection. I lost my hair and became a little weak. I remember walking to a lecture for the first time without my wig on, everyone turned around and stared, my heart has never pumped so fast!”
She added: “My tutors on my course were amazing too and I can’t thank them enough for putting up with me. They are an asset to the university. Colin Potts, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Tourism and Events Management was my Personal Academic Tutor, he was always there if I had any questions. Another favourite tutor of mine was Martin Metcalfe, who is the Programme Leader for BA Events Management.”
Colin said: “Tiff’s strength of personality and determination to succeed in her studies despite her illness was evident from her very first day at university. She didn’t always find it easy but her occasional wobbles never lasted long. Achieving her degree is a reflection of her academic ability and also of her positive outlook on life.”
Tiffany is now two years into remission and working at a hotel, putting the skills and knowledge she learnt through her degree to good use. Her future plans involve possibly relocating to Dubai with her partner, to work in the hospitality industry.
For more information on The Pamela Northcott Fund visit www.pamelanorthcottfund.org.uk and follow them on Twitter @campaignkate
Kate told the Standard she owes her 2016 Cheshire Woman of the Year Award to Tiffany.
She founded the Pamela Northcott Fund in 2007, following the death of her mother who was diagnosed with kidney cancer at the age of 50 in 2005.
Distressed by the knowledge that there was no effective chemotherapy available to treat kidney cancer, she put all her time and energy into researching a treatment for her mum.
Now an expert in NHS cancer commissioning policy, Kate has campaigned for the Cancer Drugs Fund which has provided life-extending drugs to more than 80,000 people.
She often works with young patients, and got in touch with Tiffany after reading her story in The Leader and Standard in 2014.
Tiffany wrote a touching nomination about Kate, who shared it with this newspaper this week.
Tiffany wrote: “Kate helped save my life. Not only mine, but hundreds if not thousands of cancer patients' lives have been saved by her amazing work.
“In 2014 I was 18 and diagnosed with cancer and my treatment had been delayed for six months. I was due to start Chester University and was in a very frightened state. Kate held my hand and more throughout the whole journey and beyond. She took control from the very beginning and somehow made my cancer journey fun, got me through the gruelling treatment, hair loss and the first and second year of uni. Kate has given me the tools and confidence to 'dream big' and work hard for a great career and future.”
Tiffany described how Kate had helped support her through university, and even paid to set up her room with cushions, bedding, a TV and kitchen equipment.
She continued: “I asked Kate once how I could ever repay her and she said 'go and have a successful, happy life; that's my reward'. Well I hope this nomination goes some way to repaying the incredible gift she gave to me and others, every day – life and hope.”
See full story in the Chester Leader