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Tessa stays focused despite cancer diagnosis


Managing the after effects of surgeries to overcome a rare form of cancer would be reason enough for most students to put their Year 12 studies on hold. However, despite the physical and emotional strain of dealing with her health issues, Tessa McHugh was determined to finish her secondary schooling with her friends at Xavier College.

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Not only did she complete her SACE, she did so with flying colours, achieving an ATAR of 90.3 and is now planning to study a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) at UniSA this year.

Having first been diagnosed with Chondrosarcoma cancer in her shoulder at the end of Year 10, Tessa was well aware of the demands of juggling illness and studies by the time she entered Year 12.

“Year 11 was very challenging as I had four surgeries throughout the year and consequently a lot of time off school,” Tessa told The Southern Cross.

“I had a surgery at the end of 2016 and was still recovering from this at the beginning of Year 12. Due to having so many major surgeries in a short amount of time I was often very tired and sore.

“One of the biggest challenges throughout Year 12 was the follow-up scans to check the cancer hadn’t come back. They are every three months and added a lot of extra stress on top of my schoolwork, as it is very emotionally and physically exhausting.”

Unfortunately, in September it was confirmed that the cancer had returned. With only a couple of months until exams, Tessa said it was “definitely the most difficult part of the year”.

“This was followed by more tests and it was quite difficult to manage the remaining school assignments, although I did have a lot of support from all of my teachers.”

Xavier College’s SACE coordinator Paul Taylor was extremely helpful in applying to SACE for special provisions for Tessa, especially as her exams neared.

“I had previously applied for special provisions of additional time and rest breaks for my exams, as my shoulder can get sore when writing for long periods of time. After being told about my cancer recurrence I was initially planning on still sitting my exams, as my surgery was going to be after they were completed.

“However, the date was brought forward so my SACE coordinator applied for special provisions due to medical reasons that I would be unable to attend my exams, which was approved and my exam results were given by a moderated predicted grade,” Tessa explained.

With everything that was going on with her health she admitted there were times when giving up crossed her mind.

“I think that I was always pretty determined to finish Year 12, although at times it did seem like giving up would be easiest. I was motivated to keep going by the support of those around me.

“My family and close friends definitely inspired me, but I am also very lucky to have a very supportive doctor who has always reminded me to be positive and that I can achieve whatever I set my mind to.”

Xavier principal Lynn Martin said Tessa’s dedication to her studies despite her ordeal should inspire others “to do their best with what they are facing”.

“Her experience also highlighted the need for students who are experiencing difficulties in Year 12 to discuss their situation with their SACE coordinator as they may be eligible for special provisions.

“Everyone at Xavier College is very proud of Tessa’s determination to complete her Year 12 studies and we wish her every success in her future endeavours,” Mr Martin said.


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