I have cancer, but it doesn't have me
Diagnosed with cancer last year, Nicki Bruno never imagined she would have completed studies in Australian Migration Law at ANU, and have built her own business as a migration agent in Canberra.
Migrating to Australia from London with her young family in 2011 was meant to be an exciting adventure, but within a few months it became a battle to survive cancer.
"I was looking to find a job in my former profession of psychology, and while looking for jobs, little did I know that I was suffering from cancer at the time," she said.
She was diagnosed with aggressive kidney cancer on April 16. In June 2012, doctors operated to remove an eight-centimetre tumour, which left her in hospital for 10 days.
"They didn't tell me until afterward, but they couldn't give me certain pain relief because my liver started failing and my lungs had started going,'' she said. "So it was literally a 'last-minute job'.
Ms Bruno said although she was shocked by the seriousness of her illness, she found that being isolated during her recovery very difficult to cope with too.
"I don't stay at home very well, it drives me absolutely mad,'' she said. "And because we didn't have anybody here, nobody came and saw me."
Unwilling to sit back, Ms Bruno began an online course in Australian Migration Law at ANU to keep her mind busy.
She said keeping engaged with others and taking on the challenge of learning new skills helped to keep her mind off her health concerns.
"It was a saving grace, but I didn't think at the time that it was helping me," she said. "Migration law was so heavy going, my whole focus was my studies and not the cancer at all.
''I'd say to people, 'I have cancer, but it doesn't have me'."
Her graduation this week marks the start of a new chapter for Ms Bruno, her husband and two primary school-aged sons.
Many of Ms Bruno's classmates did not know of her remarkable battle with cancer during the course and many still don't.
"I didn't claim any additional assistance and met all my deadlines," she said. "It made me laugh when others were asking for extensions and having a moan at times."
Now in remission, Ms Bruno said she was really proud to have realised her childhood dream of building her own business.
Although she has continuing health challenges and is aware that her cancer could return in the future, she said worrying about things that are out of her control was counter-productive. "Remission means that at the moment I'm OK,'' she said. "I will do as much as I can until they tell me I can't."
This article originally appeared in The Canberra Times.