How breast cancer gave me the courage to start a Master’s degree

This post was contributed by Cansu Kucuk, an alumna of Birkbeck’s MSc in Marketing Communications.

Cansu Kucuk

Cansu Kucuk

There are certain events that most people hope they’ll never have the misfortune of experiencing – and being told you have breast cancer at age 25 is probably one of them.

With one fateful appointment in a grim, grey room, everything I’d ever hoped for and dreamed of felt like it was taken away from me.

Control of my life was suddenly out of my hands and my days were overtaken with all things cancer: doctors, hospitals, waiting rooms, scary decisions, scary survival statistics and scary treatments.

I built up boxes of information on operations, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, long-term medication, how to choose a wig, how to keep your nails from falling out and what symptoms I’d have to permanently watch out for.

It was overwhelmingly terrifying – like falling into a parallel universe where nothing is real and everything is one long nightmare you can’t pinch yourself out from.

You’d think that the best thing to do at a time like that would be to concentrate on survival and taking it easy for a while, right?

But not me. Perhaps I was reckless or stuck in a sort of fight mode, but instead I took a step I’d been considering for years, yet talked myself out of, by applying to study for a master’s degree in marketing communications.

I’d convinced myself that I didn’t have enough time or money; I’d even said at age 24 that I was getting too old for university.

It’s funny how the threat of impending death makes you realise the pointlessness of self-imposed obstacles.

I attended the open evening for Birkbeck, University of London an hour after having my first Zoladex treatment – nicknamed “the horse shot” – and started my university days combining full time work and weekly hospital visits.

It wasn’t as easy as I’d like to make out. I’d love to say I breezed through the first term of after work evening lectures with painful bones from my treatment. But really, I had a tough time trying to stop myself from quitting.

However difficult and time-consuming it was combining my studies with a job and coping with my many health problems during my first year, I can’t put into words the amount of satisfaction and motivation that going to university gave me.

By taking control of one aspect of my life, not only did it feel like I was achieving something and moving forward, the amount I learnt from the lecturers and students I met on the course was priceless. The support I received from the disability office at Birkbeck on my toughest days kept me going.

Studying gave me the willpower to get through the most frightening days of my life – there’s little time to think about how much your bones hurt when you’re busy studying for exams and planning projects for group assignments.

Everyone has their own challenges – be they personal commitments, financial, disabilities or simply being too busy.

But try to escape these traps and aim for whatever you may have been putting off – it’s never as scary as you imagine. And after everything I finished my dissertation, making the fight worthwhile.

  • October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For information about breast cancer, visit Breast Cancer Care’s website or call their free, confidential helpline on 0808 800 6000.

2 thoughts on “How breast cancer gave me the courage to start a Master’s degree

  1. You are ‘wow’!

    As you said, ‘escaping the traps we have in life’ and your story inspires us to do this. I will certainly remember these words whenever questions of doubt come to mind. May you have the best of everything.

    Rahat xx

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