'Doctors diagnosed my brain tumour as exam stress’

One student's experience of taking exams in the most extraordinary circumstances – and triumphing

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About five months ago, just as I was about to start my GCSE revision, I decided I had to get something done about the vision problems that had been bothering me for about a year. My teachers at Skinners’ Academy told my mum that I didn’t seem to be able to concentrate. They knew something was wrong.

With exams coming, I knew had to get it sorted.

I visited opticians and doctors to try to get a diagnosis. One doctor said it was exam stress that was causing my vision problems!

Finally, I was sent for an MRI scan. I think the doctors had had enough of me bothering them.

It was March. I was told that I had a brain tumour the size of a tennis ball. A slow-growing one, but a tumour. 

I was sent to Great Ormond Street Hospital in central London, where surgeons operated. They removed the tumour, which turned out to be benign. Although this was good news, I woke from the operation paralysed down the whole of my right side – face, leg, arm and the hand I needed to write my exam papers. For two weeks, I could only get about in a wheelchair.

Until my diagnosis, I had continued with full-time education, going to school every day. But now I had major decisions to make. Should I forget about my nine GCSEs, recover from the operation and start again next year?

I just knew I didn’t want to wait a year. That wasn’t an option for me.

Everyone at school was behind me deciding what was the best thing to do and how I could do the exams.

With the help of a tutor supplied by Hackney Learning Trust [which runs local education services] and amazing support from my school, I managed it. I couldn’t write and had to have someone to read and write for me in every exam.

Everyone was so supportive at school. (The school motto is "Be the best you can" and we're taught that you can achieve your ambitions no matter what.)

So I did what I could. I did most of the exams.

Now, when I think about everything that’s happened, I think “Wow”.

My mum told me that sitting the exams was enough and that exams don’t define who you are.

But my recovery still isn’t complete. I can walk unaided now, but my body is still weak. I’m having a lot of therapy. The doctors say that recovery can take up to a year.

Ozge Parin, a student at Skinners’ Academy in Hackney, went on to achieve GCSEs in Turkish (A*), English literature (7 – equivalent to an A), business studies (B), health and social care (B), English language (5), maths (4), science core (C), science additional (C). She is about to return to Skinners’ Academy to begin a BTec business studies Level 3 extended diploma and Turkish A level.

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