Cancer survivor ticks off a bucket list dream with UON against all odds

Date 27.07.2020

Four years ago, student Mark Jacobs, battled cancer. It was to be a fight that set him on the path to achieving one of his bucket list dreams at the University of Northampton.

In 2016, after a period of illness, Mark was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer and he began his treatment journey, which reshaped what he wanted from life. Fast forward to 2019 and armed with an all clear diagnosis, Mark started his journey to achieve a dream – getting a Masters’ degree.

Speaking about his decision to go back to university, Mark said: “My cancer diagnosis was a game changer. I gave up my job in IT and went travelling, but I knew that I wasn’t going to be beaten by cancer, I had more left to achieve. That drive, and healthy dose of humour, got me through the dark times of my cancer journey. It helped me realise that I wanted to get my Masters’ and give my career a step change.”

After doing his research, Mark picked the University of Northampton, and began studying for his Masters’ in Strategic Technology Management. Mark immersed himself in his studies and enjoyed student life. That student experience was disrupted by the outbreak of Coronavirus. For Mark, lockdown would prove an extreme challenge.

Mark said: “As someone who was in the medically at-risk group when coronavirus spread across the world, I was concerned. Quite early on, I started to be extra careful, having undergone extensive cancer treatment, which left my immune system weak, I had already experienced periods of isolation to avoid getting poorly.”

Mark turned to the academic team at the University of Northampton in his darkest hours. Speaking about it, Mark said: ““Going into Lockdown brought back lots of the feelings of anxiety, it triggered my medical Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Lockdown was very isolating for me, as I’m a mature student, living on my own.

“Quickly my university studies were adapted and started to be delivered online, which was great, if not a little odd being at the kitchen table talking to my University cohort. We were part way through a group work project at the time, the group all had wildly different responsibilities and home lives, finding a time we could all focus took a bit of getting used to.

“After a while, as the impact of being in lockdown really set in, I found myself having a real crisis of confidence, I wondered if I could complete my studies, if I could survive the lockdown, my mental health was suffering.

“I spoke to my tutor, Dilshad Sarwar, she was so helpful and went the extra mile to support me, with my mental health, and with my studies. Dilshad, and my other tutors, helped me to find coping strategies to reset my brain and start to become more positive. I’m so thankful for their support, I’m back on track with my assignments and I’ve completely reshaped my dissertation after being inspired by the coronavirus pandemic.”

Mark has been inspired by the data behind the pandemic, and has reshaped his dissertation to explore how using machine learning to analyse data could aim to predict trends in coronavirus mortality rates.