When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had just started my A-Levels. I was having the best time ever and was enjoying studying a lot towards my dream career of Medicine. As soon as I got my diagnosis, everyone’s reaction around me was for me to drop out of Sixth Form and start again a year later. However, I was determined to keep going. I will be the first to admit that it was hard but I got through it and now have finished my A-Levels and have an offer to study Medicine at university in September.
Deciding to continue studying on treatment was not an easy decision, and one made after discussions with family, friends, teachers and my medical team. All throughout however, I listened to my body, and when I needed to rest I did. Overall, I was able to go into Sixth Form for roughly 7 days a month, and spent most time studying at home.
Here are my Top Tips for doing your A-Levels whilst on treatment:
Keep your teachers in the loop – The main way I was able to keep up with work was constantly emailing my teachers, letting them know what stage of treatment I was at, how I was feeling and whether I was in hospital or not. This meant that they knew whether or not to expect work from me, and also meant that they sent me work when I was feeling well enough and motivated to do it, making sure I didn’t lose track of what I had and hadn’t done.
Manageable To-Do lists – writing a to-do list every day when I felt well enough motivated me to complete the list and meant that I was able to get the work done each day that I needed to. But make sure this list is manageable and can always be added to – also if you don’t complete it, that’s also ok!
A place to relax in school – if you are able to go into school, ask your pastoral team if there is any room that you can go to if you start feeling unwell, or just exhausted whilst at school and unable to head home. I had a small room with a comfy chair and table, and although it was not the most ideal, it was there if I needed a nap or somewhere quiet to rest
Rethink your revision methods – mainly due to chemobrain and morphine, I had to change my revision methods. It changed from being mainly flashcard based, to more visual such as mindmaps and posters. If your GCSE methods no longer work, try something new!
Have a plan with school if you get unwell – my medical team, CLIC Sargent social worker and Sixth Form all collaborated to form a plan for if I became unwell, such as when my blood counts were slightly low, I had teachers who could take me home quickly, instead of me potentially having to go home alone. (speak to your medical team for this)
Utilise Hospital Teachers – if you are studying at home, and struggle to get hold of your teachers, make a note of these questions and ask your hospital teachers the next time you are there. At A-Level, they are not always specialised for this level, however majority have a basic understanding of most A-Levels, and they were a great source of help for me.
Don’t be too hard on yourself! – It’s a given that your grades may not be where you want them to be whilst on treatment, and it is ok for that to be the case. You can cry, be sad and take time to process it. Use it as a way of testing bits of knowledge you may have missed, and parts that you need to talk to your teachers about. Don’t take it as an accurate representation of your knowledge, as it wont be yet.
Most importantly, remember it is ok to not want to study as much as you used to. Always put yourself and your health first, and if after a few months you decide that you actually want to retake the year, then that is ok, and it is not failure.
Thanks for reading,