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Inspirational student Nichola Lyall from Dunmurry graduates from Ulster University today with a BSc in Diagnostic Radiography.

In September 2012 former hairdresser Nichola was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer called triple negative breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy and reconstruction and six cycles of chemotherapy.

“I didn’t really know what a radiographer was until I was a patient and experienced it for myself. During the course of my diagnosis, treatment and recovery I spent a lot of time in the radiology department- I think by the end of it I had every type of scan going!”

You would assume spending so much time in hospital as a patient would have put her off but in fact it had the opposite effect,

“The treatment and care I received was amazing. Having those big scans can be a very scary and daunting process but each radiographer I met showed me care and compassion and helped put me at ease.

“My own experiences in the radiology department made me realise that diagnostic radiography was for me. Not only did I find the science side of it really interesting but I wanted to have the opportunity to provide the type of care that I received and help as many people as I could.”

Nichola has wanted to go to university since the age of 20 but was never brave enough to take the plunge and apply. She completed an access course in her late twenties but always found an excuse not to do it- financial worries, demands of family and the fear of failure. It was her cancer diagnosis and recovery that gave her the final push,

“I have always dreamt of graduating from university and getting to wear that cap and gown and I truly believe that beating breast cancer gave me the motivation I needed to follow my dream.”

It was challenging at times to balance family life with studying full time but Nichola enjoyed every minute. Nichola describes her degree as a family effort; her husband proofreading her assignments and her daughter teaching her how to use powerpoint.

“It’s important for me to set a good example to my 17 year old daughter. I wanted to show her that if you work hard you can achieve anything and I think it worked. She is currently studying hard for her A Levels and hopes to go on to study biomedical sciences and plans to one day pursue a career in cancer research.”

Since completing her studies Nichola has secured a post as a band 5 diagnostic radiographer in the City Hospital.