When Chantal de Long from Delft registered for her Master's degree at Stellenbosch University in 2020, she was looking forward to the challenge, determined to work hard and make the most of her research. Instead, unimaginable obstacles and tragedy marked her academic journey over the next three years.
When she held the Master's degree in Haematological Pathology in her hand at SU's graduation ceremony on 28 March, it was with enormous pride, but also sadness that she cannot share the achievement with her mother, who passed away in April 2022.
The first obstacle that complicated De Long's studies, was the Covid-19 pandemic that brought the world to a standstill in March 2020. “The lockdown measures had a big impact on my studies, causing huge time delays, anxiety and stress. Not long after that, in May 2020, my mother had a severe stroke and needed full-time care. Juggling part-time work, studies, a global pandemic and taking care of my ill mother took a toll on my mental and physical health," she explains.
After losing her mother, her mental health declined even more. “I couldn't cope with minor day-to-day tasks, never mind finishing an entire thesis."
It took all the self-discipline and courage she could muster as well as “an amazing" support system consisting of family members, academic mentors and her supervisors at SU to get her through the academic journey and to the finishing line – submitting her Master's thesis in December last year.
“I will forever remember the pain these past three years have caused me, but the scars will be a beautiful reminder of all the valuable lessons I've learned and how much I've grown. For that I'll always be grateful," De Long says.
Her postgraduate research focused on conducting research to improve treatment plans for chronic myeloid leukaemia patients using various molecular-based techniques. Her Master's degree examined imatinib resistance and evaluated the role of pharmacogenetic variability in a South African chronic myeloid leukaemia cohort.
De Long says she pursued a career in science to improve healthcare for people in need. “I have witnessed the devastating effects of mismanaged diseases in my family, my community and our country – also as a result of cures not being available yet. It has taught me the importance of the advancement of science by using my knowledge to better the lives of others. I find it very fulfilling to conduct research that will ultimately help combat human diseases prevalent in our society now."
She hopes to complete her PhD in 2025 and to make more valuable contributions to medical science. She is also keen to mentor young scientists. “I'm passionate about science and always eager to learn new skills. I'm also passionate about teaching and presenting my research in laymen's terms."
The challenges De Long overcame to achieve academic success have made a deep impression on her. “I have learned that life is incredibly short and that tomorrow is not promised. I now live for today, making the best of every day, appreciating my loved ones, and being kind to everyone I encounter. We do not know the silent struggles people are facing, so it's best just to be kind."
Her advice to young people who also face obstacles and setbacks in the course of their studies is to cultivate a positive mindset. “Unfortunately, we cannot change what happens to us, but we can change the way we react to these challenges. So live life to its fullest, grab every opportunity at your disposal, and experience life in the here and now. Challenges are only temporary and will pass. So keep going, continue doing your best, and always remain kind. Your hard work will be rewarded."
PHOTO: Stefan Els