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Multiple brain tumour survivor graduates with a PhD

Dr Amy Martin has survived multiple brain tumours and has excelled in her academic career. Picture: Supplied

Dr Amy Martin has survived multiple brain tumours and has excelled in her academic career. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 5, 2022


Despite having been diagnosed with life-threatening brain tumours on three occasions in her teens, Dr Amy Martin has overcome the odds and completed her PhD.

At 33-years-old, Martin is left with 75% of her brain, after multiple surgeries to remove the tumours. The tumours caused her to suffer severe epilepsy and muscular damage. She has four titanium plates and 16 titanium screws in her skull.

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Tomorrow, Martin will graduate from Stellenbosch University with her PhD in ancient cultures which focused on the notion of a female poetic tradition in ancient Greek literature.

At ages 14, 17 and 18 her life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with brain tumours.

Despite her health, Martin strived for academic success.

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The graduand said her diagnosis at such a young age was physically and emotionally challenging.

“I struggled in the beginning. When I woke up from my operations in the intensive care unit, I couldn't move my left arm,” she said.

She added: “The doctors told me there was a very big possibility that I would never really regain the full movement on the left side of my body. I then started physiotherapy.”

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Martin said her medical trauma caused her to feel disconnected from everyone and made her afraid to leave home.

“I was so scared of having a seizure in public which has happened before. It was difficult and painful but I had my family to support me.”

In her schooling years, Martin experienced bullying when her head was shaved for operations. This also exposed her operation scar.

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Martin said her experience over the years taught her to be strong.

“It shaped me and forged my path to some extent but it did not define me, nor did it dictate my future,” she said.

“I remained strong and reminded myself that I was still capable of doing whatever I set my mind to.”

After finishing high school, Martin studied a bachelor of arts degree in language and cultures. After that she moved to South Korea to teach English for two years.

Upon her return, she completed her honours and master’s degrees in ancient cultures.

Upon completion of her PhD, Martin said academia gave her back her power.

“I struggled to cope in high school. But at university, I made new friends and became a part of the Stellenbosch community, where there was a lot of encouragement and support for me to follow my dreams,” she said.

She added: “This helped me to overcome all of these challenges and to become who I am today.”

Martin said the biggest lesson was to take everything one step at a time.

“Even though I suffered severe brain trauma, I had always had the drive to show everyone that I could still accomplish all my dreams,” she said.

“I’ve learned to take things as they come and to not expect too much at once,” she added.

She hoped her story would inspire people facing similar challenges.

“I’ve learned to have more empathy for people who struggle because I was there myself and know how difficult it can be.

She added: “There's nothing wrong with feeling down or having moments of doubt and being afraid of the future because there are so many challenges that we face.”