I first visited Oxford on a day out with my family when I was ten years old. Whilst in the city, we stumbled across a sign outside Balliol College, inviting the public to look around. As I walked into the quad in Balliol, I was in awe of what I saw. It was at this very moment that I decided that I was going to Oxford University.
However, the following year I became seriously ill and, from that point onwards, hardly went to school. Over the years, I was regularly admitted to hospital with bouts of pneumonia and underwent major abdominal surgery. I was at a state school and told not to bother taking my GCSEs and, certainly, not to bother with university. Yet, when everything else was so beyond my control, studying became my unwavering focus. I taught myself, from hospital and home and, much to my school’s amazement, was later offered a place to read English Literature and Language at Jesus College, Oxford University.
Having obtained my place, the next problem I faced; how was I going to sustain a degree at the top university in the world, when my life was becoming increasingly restricted?
It was in my second year of uni that things hit rock bottom. I was admitted to hospital with yet another bout of pneumonia. The problem was, the antibiotics weren’t as effective as they once were and, upon being discharged, the infection returned within a few days. This meant another hospital admission and 6 weeks (out of an 8-week term) off uni. I’d surpassed the 6-week residency rule at Oxford and was told I needed to take a year out to focus on getting better. I knew I wasn’t getting better, only worse; what difference would a year make? By this point, I had been to over 15 hospitals and seen over 30 consultants. I was told every test had been done. The doctors had stopped looking for the cause. Whatever it was, was going to kill me.
Yet later that year, when I'd given up hope, a diagnosis was finally made; I had been living with undiagnosed active tuberculosis for 13 years and was to start 9 months of treatment. However, when I went into anaphylactic shock after just two weeks of the treatment commencing, it was concluded that there was now nothing anybody could do.
After months of medical research, in my third year of uni, a new combination of drugs were trialled; I began 18 months of life-saving chemotherapy treatment for multi drug resistant TB. My degree was extended to four years and when I graduated, it was my own story which inspired me to set up ‘That Oxford Girl’.
In these circumstances, I had both earned a place and graduated from one of the top universities in the world. If I could do it, so could other young people with barriers to their education.
When I graduated I was still on the chemotherapy treatment and wasn't in a position to work. I asked myself; what am I good at? Writing, and what do I know about? Oxford Uni. I remember thinking how much I would have benefited from a free insight into student life and how much my journey had taught me about navigating the complex application process and overcoming barriers. So, ‘That Oxford Girl’ was born. What started off as a stop-gap for my CV - a little blog:
https://www.thatoxfordgirl.co.uk/and Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thatoxfordgirl/?hl=en providing a student perspective of the application process and life at Oxford University, quickly developed into a powerful free access resource, encouraging young people from ALL backgrounds to consider Oxford Uni as an option. Since its launch the blog has had over 380,000 views and the Instagram has over 26,000 followers. I have been totally overwhelmed by the response. My book 'That Oxford Girl - A Real Student's Guide to Oxford University' has given me the opportunity to offer a refreshing insight into one of the top universities in the world.
Hardback out: 15th December!
Launch tonight at Blackwell's Broad Street, Oxford - 6th December at 7pm!