We are thrilled to inform you that ‘That Oxford Girl’ has been accepted as one of nine businesses on the Oxford Foundry’s Women’s Business Accelerator….
This was seriously cool. Aged ten, I’d made up my mind I wanted to study at Oxford Uni but the same year I became seriously ill and from that point onwards, hardly went to school. I was at a state school and told not to bother taking my GCSEs or applying to uni but held onto my goal and went on to be offered a place at Jesus College to read English.
Whilst there I found out I’d been living with 13 years of undiagnosed active Tuberculosis. I commenced 18 months of life-saving chemotherapy treatment. When I graduated I launched ‘That Oxford Girl’; a powerful free platform increasing access, social mobility and diversity at Oxford Uni.
I had now secured an exclusive spot at Oxford Uni’s Entrepreneurial campus to take ‘That Oxford Girl’ to the next level. I would be mentored by the big dogs at Google and Airbnb, have meetings with investors from global venture capital firms and join an action-packed programme of masterclasses by renowned experts in all things business.
During the course, everyone kept saying, ‘share your background. It’s an impressive story.’ Tilly ‘the patient’ had now transformed into Tilly ‘the businesswoman’. It was a story of overcoming the odds and everyone loves a happy ending.
What no one knew was that my story hadn’t ended. Just when I thought I’d waved goodbye to that ‘patient’ label forever, in 2018 I went into my first life-threatening adrenal crisis.
I was now navigating life with adrenal failure; a life of ambulances, emergency injections and a hydrocortisone pump injecting steroids into my blood through a cannula 24/7 to keep me alive (turns out TB can really mess up your body). The story I was currently living, was the one I was so desperate to hide.
On the final day of the accelerator programme, we were invited to pitch to a room of investors. It was here that I had the privilege of meeting Arlan Hamilton who shared her story of her rise from homelessness, to founder of multi-million pound VC, Backstage Capital, funding underrepresented founders. When asked the secret to her success, she simply answered “my mum”. She paused for a moment.
“The 3am Whatsapper is the greatest ally to the person who may one day change the world.”
I looked across at my own mum, who had driven me to the conference, carried my heavy bag up the blustery street in the pouring rain, made me meals on wheels to eat before the event, filled my tablet sorters and had all my emergency meds at the ready. I was still sick, really sick and without any one of these steps, I’d be occupying a very different stage later that night, the real-life theatre of A&E.
All the while, at the event, mum pretended she didn’t know me. At aged twenty-five, she knew how important it was for me to have a semblance of independence, something my cruel illness had repeatedly stripped me of again and again. I was there as a ‘businesswoman’ and my mum did everything within her power to ensure it remained that way.
That night, as various eminent professionals took to the stage to share what they were most proud of, I wanted to stand and point to the lady with the blonde bob, hiding in the corner and shout “she’s my mum”. Proud didn’t cut it.
And what I wanted to tell them all was this: when I first collapsed in the hallway aged ten, my mum called the GP: “I think my daughter has pneumonia.” She’d been ill five years earlier and had experienced the exact same symptoms; it seemed like history was repeating itself. The GP’s response: “I’m sure it’s just a wee cough, Mrs Rose.” It was, in fact, pneumonia.
As the years went by and the infections got worse, she fought my corner, whilst continuing to deteriorate herself. She took ‘all-nighters’ to a new level; I’d regularly wake in the morning to find my mum in front of the computer, drowning in medical journals. Night after night, she slept in those sticky plastic hospital chairs, never leaving my side.
Over the years, for both of us, a distinct pattern emerged; exertion equaled pneumonia. Now by this, I do not mean going to the gym or going on a run but rather, walking to the shop at the end of the road or climbing a few flights of stairs. Mum’s view: how could she help me if she was too ill herself? The way to stay well – she gave up her career and barely moved.
At one point, the doctors were struggling to know which tests to do and said they would have to wait until I was next admitted to hospital. Mum offered to make herself ill instead. The GP said it was too dangerous, he’d now seen what happened when these ‘pneumonias’ took hold and said she could die.
When I was in my second year at uni, things hit rock bottom. The antibiotics were no longer working and the doctors announced there was nothing left they could do. Mum pleaded with them to look over my files again. She’d repeatedly asserted that the only way to solve my case was to be a detective.
Cue mum rocking up on the ward with two suitcases full of research. Her relentless drive and refusal to listen to ‘no’ finally resulted in a diagnosis of the rarest kind; we had both been living with undiagnosed Tuberculosis for over 13 years.
My mum devoted her whole life to being, well, my ‘mum’, ignoring all the other facets of her identity. She continues to put her life on hold, so I can, in some capacity, live mine. Thanks to my mum, I have never simply been the ‘patient’. I am a ‘friend’, ‘girlfriend’, ‘student’, ‘graduate’, ‘founder’ and ‘author’ but the label I am most proud of, is the one no one can ever take away. I am a ‘daughter’, specifically my mum’s daughter.
Arlan Hamilton presents her mum as her biggest cheerleader, her supporter and the reason behind her success. My mum is also my 3am Whatsapper but she too has changed the world: my world.
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