Georgina defies cancer three times to graduate

July 28 2022

Emersons Green mum Georgina Tankard at her graduation ceremony. Picture: Matt Willis

Emersons Green mum Georgina Tankard at her graduation ceremony. Picture: Matt Willis

AN Emersons Green mum has graduated from university, after being treated for cancer three times during her studies.

Former teacher Georgina Tankard worked in Emersons Green Library before deciding to return to study, aged 48.

She hoped the masters degree course in the psychology of education would build on her understanding of children’s learning and mental health, so she could better help young people.

But two days before she was due to start as a mature student at Bristol University, in September 2017, Georgina was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She needed surgery and five weeks of radiotherapy, and had to miss a semester (half-year) of her studies.

During the treatment the mother-of-two also found a cancerous melanoma on her leg, which had to be surgically removed.

When Georgina returned for the next academic year, she received news that a lump had been found in her other breast, and she was diagnosed with a different form of cancer. 

She said: “I just felt a bit sick. It was quite a lot more serious than the first breast cancer.

“But I knew what to expect this time.

“I was just like ‘ok, I’m back in the groove again.’ But this time I was a lot more informed, a lot more prepared.”

Georgina carried on studying with a reduced timetable, as she once again underwent more surgery and radiotherapy.

This was followed by hormone therapy, which left her with “fatigue, horrible anxiety and headaches which lasted for days”.

During this time she had help from a “brilliant” counsellor at the university’s student counselling service, and also had support from the NHS and a Bristol charity.

Georgina said: “Cancer takes up a lot of time – I think I had over 100 appointments – but also a lot of headspace.

“I get really emotional when I talk about it, as my friends were just amazing. 

“I’m a really independent person but I realised I needed help, and they made sure they were there. 

“I had 40 radiotherapy sessions and I only did one alone. I called them my Team George.”

Soon Georgina was back to her studies full-time.

She wrote her dissertation – which she now hopes to publish – on pupils’ experiences transitioning from primary to secondary school.

Georgina said: “I was determined from the beginning that I wasn’t going to stop studying.”

She finished her studies last summer and achieved a distinction with the help of her “amazing” friends and family and the support of the university.

Last month Georgina graduated, in front of her husband and younger daughter, at the university’s Wills Memorial Building. She was last in the building’s Great Hall more than 30 years ago, when she graduated with her first degree.

She said: “It’s amazing to graduate here, with my husband and daughter, who have seen all the hard work I put in at the kitchen table over the four years.

“Plus the last time I was here was when I graduated, in 1989!”

Georgina hopes her story will encourage others to “never give up, pause to rest if you have to, but pursue your dream”.

She now plans to become a children’s counsellor.

Georgina said: “I feel that because I’m still here, I want to be useful.

“There’s a real need to improve children’s mental health at the moment, and it’s very important to me to help people.”

Bristol University pro vice-chancellor for student experience Professor Sarah Purdy said: “Georgina’s will to learn under incredibly difficult circumstances is truly inspirational. 

“We are so pleased that she is here today despite everything that has been thrown at her.”