Natalie Jarvis, 27, has overcome a lifetime of adversity to graduate from Swansea University in summer 2020 with a business management degree.
Natalie suffered the death of her father when she was eight, and despite a troubled school life, she managed to secure eight GCSEs. She says: “My grades at GCSE enabled me to go to college but I was in a bad place and surrounded by the wrong people. When my friend committed suicide, I decided to forge a better life for myself.
I took the decision to study an extended diploma in business at college and went on to gain a distinction. That led to an offer from the London Business School, but I won a scholarship to study Business Management at Swansea University - I was over the moon.
I started my course at Swansea University in September 2015, but my mental health and personal wellbeing were deteriorating rapidly – I was in a physically abusive relationship and found it extremely difficult to juggle my studies. I carried on with the course, but it was all too much, and I ended up having to completely suspend my studies for a year. I also found out I was 12 weeks pregnant, but I sadly lost my baby.
I moved into a women's refuge for eight months where I was put through post-traumatic stress courses, freedom programmes and self-esteem classes, all of which helped massively.
I took the decision to return to my degree in September 2018 and began the second year of my course.
My life changed overnight when I found a lump on my right breast. Despite an operation during which most of the lump was taken away, I was given the devastating news that the cancer was stage three, known medically as HERS2 which is the most aggressive form of breast cancer there is. I was one stage away from being terminally ill.
Gruelling bouts of chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed, but I was stuck on what was best to do. Was university going to be too much to deal with? Despite my worries, I felt quitting was not the right thing. I knew I might die before my degree finished but at least I was going to die trying.
When I started chemotherapy, my hair started falling out very quickly. By my third session it was becoming impossible to hide and I invested in some wigs – many of which were very colourful!
Chemotherapy was unlike anything I have ever gone through. I would cry because I was so weak, but my mind was awake.
My assignments saved me. I may have been stuck physically but my brain was working just fine. I took my laptop to hospital appointments and on I went. Nothing was going to stop me from finishing my degree.
Thankfully I am now in remission. For five years, I will undergo monitoring and I will continue to have daily medication for the next 10 years, but for now I have won.
There were times I thought I would never see the end of my degree, as though something was always going to stop me achieving my goal. The elation I felt when I sent in my final piece of work was up there alongside my all-clear from cancer. Against all the odds, I graduated in the summer with a 2:1.
I cannot speak highly enough of the staff at Swansea University. The support I received has been nothing short of amazing.
The lecturers and wider administrative staff within the School of Management have gone above and beyond and I am so grateful for their help and support.
I would also like to pay tribute to my partner Starr, who has been an absolute rock during the past two years.
I have applied to study a master's degree at Swansea because I want to further my education and ensure a bright future. The recent lockdown has been a strange time, but it’s also been a blessing spending quality time with loved ones and making memories that will last a lifetime.
I am still on my journey, but a new chapter is just beginning.”