I started my studies in 2012 and all was going smoothly in my career and with my education until 2015, when I discovered that I had a tumour.

This turned out to be non-cancerous, but it was very big and required a seven-hour operation to remove it. The surgeon (who was a big rugby fan) described it as being the size of a size three rugby balls!

I recovered from the operation quickly and I was able to carry on with my studies. However, I soon began getting severe inflammation in all my joints. This progressively got worse over Christmas 2015 and into 2016 and I ended up needing three more operations in early 2016. Although this was supposed to help me, it actually made the problems with my joints accelerate and by April/May 2016 I was in incredible pain in more or less every joint of my body.

I was eventually diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in the summer of 2016; this is a degenerative autoimmune system disease, where the immune system becomes defective and attacks the joints until they become fused and deformed. The treatment I am receiving has slowed the degeneration; however, there isn’t a cure and it will continue to get worse. Before my treatment started in the summer of 2016 the disease had progressed to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed, get dressed by myself or do most basic tasks without my wife helping me.

Even now that I’m receiving the treatment I can’t walk further than a few hundred yards at most without a lot of pain and I have permanent and irreparable damage to some joints including my hip, where I need a replacement. However, I am too young at 32 to have that just yet; I need to squeeze out as much as I can from the one I have. I take a number of drugs daily and have weekly injections to treat the condition and manage the pain.

It has been a really tough 18 months, but I am proud that I was able to finish my degree (aided by my Student Adviser’s support and advice). I am also really proud to say that off the back of my degree, I was able to secure a position with Royal Mail, which has given me a good pay rise and step up in the career ladder. I am currently really struggling to stay in employment but I had ambitions before this disease, which is why I took the course, and I am hoping the doctors can improve things further so I can see them out. I take great comfort in the fact I will always have this degree to fall back on in the future.

Emily Wells

Although you are online, when you come to Essex for graduation it really puts it into perspective what you've actually done.

Aisha Legge

It was vital to me to set a good example to my kids, raising them as a single mum working full time I wanted them to see you are never too old to finish your education.

Breshana Francis

The University of Essex Online law degree programme has developed and shaped my mind to think like a lawyer from the start of my studies.