Student battles leukaemia to graduate with first class degree

A student who has battled leukaemia will achieve his goal of graduating, when he receives a First Class Honours degree at the University of Bath’s summer award ceremonies on Thursday 8 July.

Mark Stevens, aged 24 from Bideford in North Devon, will graduate with a BSc(Honours) Biology at Bath Abbey in front of his proud parents and sister, after more than two and a half years of treatment for leukaemia.

Mark was diagnosed with leukaemia, cancer of the white blood cells, while on his third year placement working for Pfizer in 2007.

He started intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, beginning a two-and-a-half year battle against the illness.

Mark’s friends from the course graduated in 2008, while he based himself in London for the treatment.

In 2009, after two years away from his studies, Mark decided to come back to University and began the final year of his course, still having some treatment in London and taking daily chemotherapy tablets.

He said: “Once I’d made up my mind about coming back to uni my goal was to get to graduation day. I wanted to put on a silly hat and do the things my friends did and make my parents proud.

“I worked very hard and it was incredibly difficult. I went to pick up my results the same day that I moved out of uni, so my parents were with me. Getting the news of a First with them there was really emotional for all of us. They hadn’t known if I was going to make it to get my results, and neither had I.

“Graduation day is going to be a bit surreal but it’s going to be a really nice landmark event for me and my family. It feels very symbolic.”

Mark has made the most of practical help from the University to help him through his studies.

“You get so tired when you’re on treatment. Help from the University and my department has made it a bit easier, like having the right chair, a laptop with speech recognition so I didn’t have to type everything and a dictophone to record lectures. Radiotherapy to your brain can affect your memory so it was really useful to have lectures on tape.

“I’ve also had a lot of invisible encouragement and support from my department, and knowing that people were on my side was really important.”

Amanda Harper, Department Manager & Head of Student Placements in the Department of Biology & Biochemistry, said: "Having kept in touch with Mark since his diagnosis and knowing what he has been through to arrive at this point, it is wonderful to see his much-deserved success and the department is immensely proud of his wonderful achievement.

“To complete a degree in such difficult circumstances is an inspiration to us all, and to gain a first class degree is outstanding. It has been a pleasure to support Mark in his studies and we hope he and his family thoroughly enjoy his graduation day."

Mark has also been awarded the Broadbent prize for achievement by his department.

He completed his treatment in March of this year and now plans to take some time to recuperate.

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