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Yarmouth student's inspirational journey

PUBLISHED: 10:26 23 October 2009 | UPDATED: 15:24 03 July 2010

When Claire Allen collects her degree it will mark the triumphant end to an inspirational journey.

For after living under the shadow of cancer since her teenage years when her right leg was amputated to save her life, the disease returned at the start of the third year of her photography and digital media course at University Campus Suffolk (UCS) Great Yarmouth.

When Claire Allen collects her degree it will mark the triumphant end to an inspirational journey.

For after living under the shadow of cancer since her teenage years when her right leg was amputated to save her life, the disease returned at the start of the third year of her photography and digital media course at University Campus Suffolk (UCS) Great Yarmouth.

Far from being defeated by having to start a gruelling regime of chemotherapy, she carried on working and used often stark, uncomfortable images of herself at different stages of her treatment in her final degree portfolio entitled Journey.

Claire, 22, who will be in the front row at the town's St Nicholas Church today when she receives her degree, said she had been inspired by the renowned artist Sam Taylor-Wood who had published self-images following her battle against breast and colon cancer.

“I found an immediate connection with her; the way she expresses her journey through her art work. I wanted to do the same,” she said.

Described as an “inspiration” by her tutors, the former Great Yarmouth High School pupil will also be awarded the title of higher education student of the year at UCS Great Yarmouth.

Claire, of Fremantle Road, Yarmouth, was 15 when doctors diagnosed a rare form of cancer and, after coming to terms with living with an artificial leg, she enrolled at Great Yarmouth College on a fine arts course two years later.

Throughout her teenage years, her annual scans were encouraging and she went on to the three-year degree at UCS Great Yarmouth positively planning a future career in creative media.

It was before Christmas, during her fifth routine yearly scan that she hoped would signal the final all-clear, that doctors detected a large tumour on her lung - bringing news Claire and her parents, Bob and Pam, had dreaded.

Surgeons spent nine hours operating to remove the tumour at London's Royal Brompton Hospital and Claire faced a long stay in hospital followed by intensive chemotherapy.

But she continued to work on her degree - her images and films inspired by how living with cancer made her feel and affected her life and other people's reactions to her.

Her CT scans and x-ray images were used in her work as well as films showing her putting on and taking off her false leg.

Soon after being discharged from hospital she even stood in front of fellow students and staff to present her deeply personal degree work.

Tutor Jane Gamble remembers how, finding it difficult to breathe, Claire talked through her Powerpoint presentation describing her thoughts and motivation for her film and images.

“Her presentation was so professional and organised. She obviously found it difficult to breathe and was struggling, but her commitment and dedication throughout was amazing,” she said.

Claire, who is viewing today as a new start with her tumour responding well to treatment, described how self-portraits formed a large part of her work, and some were “harsh and ugly”.

She said: “It is my way of expressing what I have been through and to inform people about cancer.

“In some I am putting on my false limb and showing it in quite an ugly way. I am showing what I and other people have to go through before they step out into the world.”

Claire said her five years at college had been “wonderful,” and she was now looking to find a job to make full use of her talents.

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