Six years, a new heart, and a battle with cancer later, Amanda Saunders of Grand Falls-Windsor has graduated from Memorial University.
"I never thought that at 21 years old I would need a heart transplant, and at 22 going into 23 I would be living with blood cancer, and going through cancer treatment, all during a COVID-19 pandemic," Saunders told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning.
"My journey through university was one for the books."
In 2018, while finishing her psychology degree at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook, Saunders found out she was living with end-stage heart failure. A life-long lover of education, something she said was instilled in her by her parents, Saunders said it hurt to have to leave her education behind.
She sent emails to professors saying she wasn't able to continue her degree, all while waiting in her hospital bed in St. John's to be flown to Ottawa for her transplant.
"I withdrew from school in my hospital bed, and I remember thinking 'education is not for me. I will never be able to get to this point again,'" she said. "Every last bit of normalcy I had was gone. Poof."
Saunders received her new heart in 2019, and made a promise to herself that if she made it through the procedure, she would return to MUN and embrace every minute with open arms.
So she did just that, but says finishing her degree wasn't without its challenges.
"I had multiple complications along the way. I was diagnosed with cancer fourteen months after my transplant," said Saunders.
"Those days were hard. I remember nurses coming into my room and I was sobbing, crying, and I remember feeling like I would never get to this point."
But through all of her obstacles, Saunders stuck with trying to finish her degree. She took courses through her cancer treatment, and brought her computer with her to complete research. She said it served as the best distraction for her while recovering.
"I was given a second chance at life for a reason. Why not go with that and put trust and faith into that idea?," she said.
"It was not easy for me to go back. I actually went back to school seven months after my transplant. That was wild of me to do, but that's what I wanted and I don't regret it for a millisecond. I'm so grateful that I can now call myself a MUN graduate."
Saunders said she's going to take a break this summer and embrace the warm weather. She's currently waiting to hear back from MUN admissions and plans to chase a second degree.