Wednesday 15th August 2018
Let’s face it – taking your exams is tough. Your exam results feel like the most important thing in the world, especially after you’ve waited all summer for them. But when you’ve been through something like cancer treatment at the same time as your exams, you know that some things matter more than your final grade.
That’s why we’re launching #ResultsRedefined to change the conversation about exam results. Everyone has a different journey to taking their exams and everyone learns different things along the way, all of which matter just as much as your final results.
To help us launch #ResultsRedefined, we spoke to a group of young people with cancer who’ve received or are still waiting for their exam results. They shared how their exam experience was completely different to how they expected, as well as some advice for any young person going through something tough at the same time as their exams.
Aaron was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia just after his 16th birthday. “Only two things went through my mind,” said Aaron. “Would I lose my hair and how much school would I miss before my GCSE exams? I was worried this would mess things up and I wouldn’t get into sixth form.”
Aaron’s treatment lasted through his A Levels too. “I found it difficult to find the motivation to study because every time I sat down, I began worrying about my cancer. My parents were more relaxed – they didn’t nag me to study as much!” Though he didn’t get the grades he wanted, Aaron still got into university and eventually got a 2:1!
Don’t stress too much about your exams because you can still succeed and do what you want even if your grades aren’t what you expected.
Shannon was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in March 2018, just 2 months before her GCSEs. One doctor said her ‘school days were over’ but another told her she could sit her exams, even though she’d missed 8 weeks of school and after-school revision sessions so ‘I felt like I was at a disadvantage compared to my friends’.
Shannon decided to change her exam journey so it was right for her. She dropped some exams so she could focus on her stronger subjects which ‘meant I could plan my time and have a structure in place to use what little time I had left to revise’. Shannon’s school also made special arrangements for her to take her exams outside the hall, so friends didn’t ask her questions about her cancer before her exams and upset her.
Get as much support as you can so you don’t feel alone. Know that there are people out there to help and don’t bottle up your emotions, as it helps to talk.
Owen was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia earlier this year, during his second year of A Levels. He worried about his studying especially as he didn't go back to school, but his teachers visited the hospital to give him one-to-one lessons. He made himself a timetable to study, but realised he couldn't push himself too much or he'd feel worse. "The normal revision rules were out of the window," Owen said. "I just had to fit it in as and when I could."
Despite everything, Owen managed to see a positive side. "I was quite glad to miss my mocks as I hadn't revised! In some ways, I had more time than my friends, as they had to work and do extra-curricular activities as well, while I had lots of free time. I was ahead of them a lot of the time so that was a blessing."
Owen was already planning on a gap year after school, but now he's definitely looking forward to a break where he can go travelling.
Plan everything out in advance as it makes you less stressed. Go at your own pace and don't push yourself too far.
Munera was sitting her AS exams when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma with associated Autoimmune haemolytic anaemia. After she was diagnosed, Munera decided to retake the year, a decision which was supported by her nurses and Youth Support Coordinator at the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at UCLH. "They made me realise that it isn't such a bad thing and they encouraged me to try to keep my normal routine of attending school as much as I could."
Munera found readjusting to a routine difficult. "The strangest thing about doing exams when you have cancer is the fact that your life has changed to dramatically since the diagnosis and you must continue with normal aspects of life, such as revision and exams, whilst carrying the stress of side effects of cancer and chemo."
Don't worry about not doing so well in exams because there are always alternative options and second chances. In the same way you will get through this difficult situation, you will also get through the exams as there is always a plan tailored for you. Remember not to push yourself too much as there is always a different path you can take.
In August 2017, when she was 'dreading exams' before starting Year 11, Molly was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
Studying was difficult and Molly worried that she wouldn't get any qualifications, but towards the end of her treatment she felt well enough with classes at the hospital school, where she could work on her assignments. "It was hard when I realised how far behind I was with my work," said Molly, but her determination to do well helped. Still, she admits that she 'did have an advantage on some of the questions as there was one about cancer and some about bloods and immune systems!'
Focus on yourself first. It may take you longer to achieve something that others your age have, but in the end you always achieve your goals.
Brooklyn was in the middle of studying for his GCSEs when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which changed his focus: "The last things on my mind were school and my GCSEs. I just wanted to get through the cancer."
Brooklyn asked to have his chemotherapy on weekends so he could still go to school, but it wiped him out so much he could only study every other week. His chemo finished just two weeks before his first exams, so he still struggled with getting tired.
Don't freak out and compare yourself to your friends, just do what you can do. I'd also advise people to rest, as I rushed back to school the day after my final treatment as I was super excited but it was too soon and I was worn out.
Four weeks after her final GCSE exam, when she should have been eagerly awaiting her results, Phoebe was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. "My GCSE results 100% took a backseat to my diagnosis, I had so much to think about." Moving between home, the Teenage Cancer Trust unit in Bristol and her local hospital meant Phoebe almost forget she hadn't yet received her exam results.
Her exam day experience was completely different how she expected. "I wasn't excited at all," said Phoebe. "Instead of being nervous about the results, I was more nervous about how everyone would react to my head being shaved. I hadn't told many people about my diagnosis yet."
Try and keep occupied as much as possible and make new friends as much as you can, including people on your unit at hospital. Also make sure you don't overdo it. If you're tired, sleep or rest and skip whatever work you had to do. You must focus on yourself and your health before your education, even if that means getting a tiny bit behind.
Nicola was just about to sit her National 5s when she was diagnosed with Relapsed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, after her first diagnosis aged 10. Her treatment meant she missed school for 9 months and had to sit her exams the following year. "I often felt a bit alone as my friends had moved up a year," Nicola said. "I couldn't really talk to anyone about the school work or exams and have the same moral support."
Nicola was an outpatient for most of her treatment, which meant she could study in the Teenage Cancer Trust unit in Glasgow after her appointments: "I made full use of the free wifi!" Her YSC helped keep her motivation up, but only being able to sit half of the exams she had planned was tough for Nicola. After her National 5s, Natalie set herself the goal of achieving the 4 Highers she needed to go to university. Though 'it was beyond difficult' because of her health and treatment, Nicola has just found out she achieved the grades she needed and will be off to study Immunology at the University of Glasgow, a 'subject choice inspired significantly by my diagnosis'.
No matter what you're dealing with, if you really want something, you can get it. It might be extra hard and take longer, but you can still do well in your exams... and even if you don't, it's not the end of the world. There's so much more to life than exams and grades.