A pair of best friends have graduated university with the same degrees after both battling cancer while studying.
Pals Robyn Lock, 23, and Olivia Fox, 22, both began their Marine Biology degrees in 2012 and quickly bonded over their love of learning.
But during their studies both were diagnosed within a year of each other with rare forms of cancer, forcing them to suspend their degrees.
But they fought on and both graduated with high 2:1s from Swansea University on 20 July – with exactly the same mark.
Robyn and Oliva, known as Libby, supported each other throughout their illnesses and have been there for each other every step of the way.
Libby said: “I still can’t believe I’ve actually made it to graduation.
“It was without doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I very nearly left university for good a few months after my return.”
Libby, from Chester, came back during her second year at university having lost a lot of weight and feeling generally unwell – suffering terrible hangovers after a night out.
She soon discovered she had a small lump on her chest – but was told it was just a broken rib.
The keen sailor had a biopsy on the lump and doctors called her in to reveal the worst in February 2014.
Libby struggles to remember exact details of the appointment as she tried to block the memories.
She said: “What happened in that room, I’ll probably never recall as all I can remember is a lot of tears and not many words.”
Robyn, from Swindon, was with her friend the day Libby got the news she had cancer.
She said: “I walked into the doctor’s room and saw Lib crying. I just burst out ‘Oh my god what have you done to make her cry?'”
Libby started treatment and was forced to drop out of university.
She had numerous painful tests and both chemotherapy and radiotherapy, finally finishing in August 2014.
Libby said it took a while for it to sink in that she was cancer free.
She said: “To be honest, to this day I still get goosebumps and a huge grin on my face even talking about it! I can’t even describe it. Words fail me.”
But Libby had no idea she would soon have to support her friend through exactly the same thing.
That summer, Robyn, who was captain of her university’s rugby team, was working at a kid’s camp when she too began to fall ill.
She developed a bad cough and struggled to breathe, getting to the point where couldn’t walk more than 10 metres.
Doctors admitted Robyn to hospital where she was immediately placed in quarantine with suspected tuberculosis.
She recalled: “People could only talk to me through the window – I felt like a freak, just broken. It was horrible.
“But I only thought I had TB, which usually involves a 10 week course of antibiotics to clear. I thought I could deal with that.”
However doctors returned with the news that she didn’t have TB – she had blood cancer, just like Libby.
In October 2014, Robyn was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma and her life was turned upside down.
She had to drop out of university and her mum returned to the UK from New Zealand to look after her.
She had to have chemotherapy for six months and suffered all the painful side effects that came with it – including hair loss, sickness and panic attacks.
But her friend was there for her.
Libby said: “The odds were out of this world, that the two of us get lymphoma within seven months of each other.
“I would never wish what I’ve had to endure on my enemies let alone one of my best friends, but I had the utmost faith she’d fight, scream and kick her way through the next few months.”
Robyn added: “I was so lucky because I had Libby and she’d been through it all before me. I had someone who really understood what I was going through.
“It made me realise though how lonely Lib must have been while she was going through it all.”
Olivia even made Robyn a cancer survival kit, which included headscarves and a Netflix subscription to help her pass the time.
Robyn was inspired to keep fit during her treatment so she could resume her place on the rugby pitch when she came back to university.
She said: “I wanted people to think when they saw me ‘wow, I’ve never seen her look so fit and healthy’.
“Which was ironic really as I was very unhealthy! But I didn’t want to be defined by the cancer.”
Libby wanted to get well so she could finish her degree and then travel.
A talented sailor, she took her friend on a sailing trip to Greece when Robyn finished her treatment, and the pair also went to Puerto Rico on a marine biology field trip.
Despite a relapse scare in February 2015 for Robyn, which thankfully turned out to be a false alarm, the pair powered on and passed their degrees with flying colours.
They graduated together this year.
Robyn now works as sports rep for Swansea University and Olivia is working at home to save up to go travelling with her boyfriend Elliot.
She said: “I had no choice but to be strong because I was surrounded by such strong women – Olivia, my mum and my friends.
“I had to be strong for them.”
A spokesperson for Swansea University said: “Despite everything they have been through they always wore a brave face, not wishing their peers or even their lecturers to know about their illness as they did not want any ‘special treatment’.
“Their bravery and dedication is inspirational and commendable.”