Holding on to hope

The Cardiff University graduation ceremony was particularly sweet for an optometry student who endured a year-long cancer battle in her journey to the stage


This time last year, Cardiff University optometry student, Vithiya Alphons, was in hospital receiving treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia. She could not think further ahead than the end of each day.

But on Tuesday (18 July), the future seemed brighter for Ms Alphons who graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Optometry. She starts her first job as an optometrist in August.

Ms Alphons told OT that graduating was a surreal experience.

“I couldn’t even concentrate on the ceremony. Images were flashing before my eyes of last year when I couldn’t walk, I had no hair,” she shared.

“To go from not being able to have a bath or dress myself on my own to graduating – I can’t describe it in words. It means a lot to me.”

Watching her graduate were Ms Alphons’ family, who supported her through radiotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and five rounds of chemotherapy.

“I just hope that my story will help encourage anyone who is going through tough times to not give up – anything is possible. I want to thank my family, and my amazing friends for helping me achieve my dream,” Ms Alphons emphasised.

A difficult journey

Ms Alphons was first diagnosed with leukaemia in 2015 after falling ill just days after returning to Cardiff to embark on her final year of study.

Following her diagnosis, she was forced to take a year out of university and spent 10 months receiving treatment.

Ms Alphons’ mother moved from London to Cardiff University to support her through her final year of study. Because of Ms Alphons’ lowered immune system, she could not attend lectures and instead studied through recordings and powerpoint presentations.

She told OT that although it was difficult she was determined to complete her studies.

“It was in my final year and I was nearly there. I wanted to prove that I could do it for myself and for my family,” she shared.

Early ambition

At the age of 11, Ms Alphons was selected to give a speech at the House of Lords where she described her ambition to pursue a career in optometry.

“For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be an optometrist,” Ms Alphons said.

This aim took on a personal dimension when Ms Alphons began to lose sight at the age of 12, describing how she had to hold up a book to her nose to be able to read it.

Before she was diagnosed with kerotoconus at the age of 15, Ms Alphons became so worried that she would lose her sight completely that she began to learn braille.

Ms Alphons vision dramatically improved after she was referred to Moorfields Eye Hospital and received treatment through hard then scleral contact lenses.

The experience of having her vision restored was a transformative one for Ms Alphons.

“I saw the power of that. I thought if someone can change my life that much, I want to be able to do that for other people.”