In 25 pictures, the incredible recovery of the woman who fought off cancer twice

A STUDENT who fought off cancer twice and went on to help raise tens of thousands of pounds for charity has been named as one of the top women at university across the country.

Thursday, 30th March 2017, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 8:18 pm

Brave Olivia Buckland, 23, had her life turned upside down when she found a lump by her neck months after starting at Cardiff University back in 2013.

After a year and a half of exhausting chemotherapy, in which the cancer came back despite her efforts to fight it off at first, she went into remission in November 2014.

A year later she started up her education again at Cambridge and has since gone on to raise £33,688 as president of the university’s breast cancer charity arm Pink Week.

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Olivia Buckland, who is the president of Pink Week at Cambridge University and has survived Hodgkin Lymphoma herself

She has now been nominated as one of The Tab’s future 100 – a list of women to watch across universities throughout the country, which is sponsored by Barclays bank.

While Olivia, from Lee-on-the-Solent, was fighting off cancer, she was also dealing with the loss of her hair.

Between the summer of 2014 and October 2015, she decided to chronicle the stages of her it growing back.

The first picture in the photo collage shows Olivia in hospital, the process from left to right subsequently shows her eyebrows and hair slowly growing back over the course of the months.

How Olivia charted her hair regrowing

She said: ‘It was something that I built up by taking pictures on my phone every few weeks.

‘Looking back on it now, it’s really nice to see how it changed over the course of the months.

‘I had a lot of moments where I looked a bit odd such as Princess Diana or Margaret Thatcher and I just had to endure it and wait for it to go back.

‘Losing your hair is never going to be easy but I quite like that I have this now to look back on it and see that it wasn’t so bad.

Olivia Buckland, who is the president of Pink Week at Cambridge University and has survived Hodgkin Lymphoma herself

‘This is something that I guess I’ll cherish as it reminds me of everything that I went through so it is special for me.’

Olivia told The News: ‘I look back on the last three years of my life and think that back then, I never thought I would have had a future.

‘I never would have imagined I would be back at uni, be able to travel, potentially have kids.

‘I had previously given up on my future. It wasn’t something that I even considered. My focus was simply on surviving.’

How Olivia charted her hair regrowing

She first noticed something was wrong while rowing at Cardiff in March 2013.

‘I started to notice a lump by my neck so asked a doctor at the university to check it out as a precaution.

‘I was told that I was being a hypochondriac and that it was nothing to worry about.

‘To get a second opinion I headed home to see my GP and I had some blood tests.’

It was at this point that a scan found another much bigger lump in Olivia’s chest, next to her heart.

Olivia was told she had a rare cancer called Hodgkin lymphoma.

She said: ‘To get that diagnosis made everything suddenly extremely daunting as I was thinking about what was going to happen next.

‘You feel incredibly isolated after moving home.

‘I became frustrated at seeing all my friends continue the student life and having a good time.’

The lump on her clavicle was revealed to be a tumour which was quickly removed and Olivia was cared for at home, taking fortnightly trips to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham for chemotherapy in order to tackle the bigger tumour in her chest.

In October of that year, she was placed in remission and Olivia decided to take a year’s break from studying before returning. She did some volunteering at Lee-on-the-Solent junior school as she recovered, but the cancer shortly returned.

‘The following March (2014), I started getting serious pains in my chest as the scar tissue had reignited,’ she said.

‘It suddenly became a lot harder to cope with as I was very frail. The chemo was much tougher the second time around as the chemicals were much harsher and I was helpless. I had to be carried to the shower and to bed.’

After spending a month in isolation at Southampton General Hospital, Olivia was allowed to go home in August.

In a spontaneous move, she applied to Cambridge University and was declared in remission for the second time in November that year.

She was given an unconditional offer and Olivia spent the next year getting her energy back and allowing herself to recover.

Since arriving at Cambridge in October 2015, she has gone on to flourish and is president of Cambridge Pink Week – a series of fundraising events in aid of breast cancer care, is a member of the university’s student union executive committee and is captain of the women’s boat team at Homerton College.

When reflecting on her journey, Olivia said: ‘There were of course some very dark times for me and they threaten to take over your whole life.

‘I just knew I had to survive, to see it through. You have to be honest with yourself that you cannot give up.

‘You realise it’s the people around you that bring colour to your life.

‘When I got back into uni, it was like a baptism of fire but I coped. I started doing the things I liked again.

‘After so long of feeling like a vegetable, I was able to look and feel normal. Now, I can look ahead a bit more clearly and my future doesn’t seem as lost as it did before.’

Olivia is in her second year at Cambridge, studying education with English and drama.

A keen sailor after spending time with the Hill Head Sailing Club as a child, she spent last summer taking part in the Ellen MacArthur Trust’s race around the Isle of Wight.

She believes that a group of friends from university may have nominated her for The Tab 100 – which is seen as a Forbes list of extraordinary female students.

Results of the full 100 will be released in May with those who feature invited to Barclays head office in London to gain mentoring and advice from leading female executives.

Olivia added: ‘It was quite a big surprise to find out that I had been nominated, let alone the idea that someone had considered me for it.

‘It’s really special to look back on this and see where I am at with my life now and to see all that’s now in front of me. It’s humbling for me to be on a list with so many extraordinary other women.’