Mansfield student defies cancer odds to learn to teach

Sarah Skeavington at her graduation
Sarah Skeavington at her graduation

From a three-year-old girl who had 40 per cent of survival to a 20-year-old woman who wants to “give back” by becoming a teacher - Sarah Skeavington is still making milestones no one expected.

The Higher Education student at Vision West Nottinghamshire College was diagnosed with a rare form of brain tumour called embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, which affects just 60 children a year in the UK - a tumour she still has today.

Sarah Skeavington

Sarah Skeavington

Sarah, from Mansfield, is now studying for a BA (Hons) degree in education studies at the college's Vision University Centre to become a teacher.

She graduated with a foundation degree in children’s and young people’s services at the college’s higher education graduation ceremony in November - where she was chosen to give the student 'vote of thanks'.

She said: "It is phenomenal as my family has always said words can't describe how proud they are of me. We have always been told to take each day as it comes - don't plan for the future.

"For us, graduation was one of the most emotional days we have ever had.

"I've actually done it and defied the odds of everyone saying 'you won't be able to do as much as everyone else in life'.

"But if I want to do it I will do it, as my family has said I tend to be a perfectionist with work because that is what I had control of.

"I have not had control of my life."

Alongside her studies, she works part-time as a teaching assistant and midday supervisor at Wainwright Primary Academy, Mansfield, which is the primary school she attended as a child.

Sarah who has started her fourth year at the school has assisted children from Year 1 to Year 3, she said: "It has been fantastic seeing some of the children from day one.

"To watch them go from them not understanding it to suddenly getting it is a major breakthrough and it feels amazing for me knowing that I have helped to make that change."

At the age of four, Sarah had intensive radiotherapy and chemotherapy which left the outside of her tumour dead.

She said: "I feel grateful not knowing half of what happened when I was receiving treatment – that would have made it difficult for me to live with.

"I remember things like going into hospital and realising I was different because I had hair and other children didn't, to thinking I'm the same now because I didn't have hair.

"I didn't realise I was poorly to the extent I was, I remember trips like going to Lapland and Disneyland Floria."

Sarah also said her fight with cancer has helped her understand when children are going through a difficult time.

She said "I think you don't always understand if something is not visible – so a child could be going through something and they just don't show it, but if you make them aware that you understand these things and you aren't going to judge them – or maybe you have been through something similar you can be supportive.

"I find that a lot of children once they realise what I have been through feel that they can confide with me a bit more.

"I want them to approach me."

Sarah still receives regular checkups for her tumour but hopes to be given the all clear at King's Mill Hospital when she turns 21 in January.

She said: "I have always told I will be monitored for life.

"Because of my past treatment I have now had a lifetime’s worth of sun - I have to wear factor 50 suncream and I can't get a suntan because of the implications.

"I can't do a lot of different activities like ice skating or contact sports, because of the risk of my bumping my head - we don't know what would happen.

"I still have regular hospital appointments and it is just monitoring and making sure side effects are being dealt with.

'I have always been made aware that the side effects will come later in life.

"They have always said that when I hit 21 that's when I'll be given the all clear, but when that is definite is down to the doctors."