I'm a student, I'm a cheerleader and I have CFS

9 May 2022


I am Samantha Steven, an undergraduate Primary Education student at the University of Winchester. I was diagnosed in Year 10 with chronic fatigue syndrome and very quickly all my dreams of studying to become a teacher slipped away.

I had a very tough three years as I came to terms with my condition, and ultimately a new way of living, but one thing I clung on to, with the encouragement of my family, was hope. Hope that things would improve; and they did.

When UCAS applications opened I began looking for universities that might be able to accommodate my needs, as while things had improved, I was still unable to attend sixth form on a full timetable. I was recommended to look at the University of Winchester as they were known for primary education courses but remained concerned about how I would be able to study with my condition. I looked on their website and attended all the open days and online talks available to me, one of which was with the disability team.

The reason I ended up choosing Winchester over other universities is because I was made to feel valued. I felt like an individual and not just another student. The disability team were excellent in helping me understand what support was available to me, such as DSA, and helped put together a learning agreement. The learning agreement is fantastic as it puts me back on a level playing field with my peers. I can record lectures and seminars for example, and have earlier access to PowerPoints as these things enable me to map out my day and balance my fatigue levels.  


Samantha at Wolvesey Castle


I had a lot of concerns coming to university, especially around making friends as my condition means I can only go out for a short amount of time and have to rest afterwards. I thought that people wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who had to take regular naps and couldn’t go out every day. However, there were so many events on at the beginning of the first semester that I really had no reason to worry! The university has really thought about the activities it offers and have made sure there is something for everyone. I now have a great circle of friends, some from my course and others from my flat or societies.  

My biggest personal success since being at the university is being able to join the POM Dance team! I thought that having a disability would mean I couldn’t join a sports team, but I went along to a taster event for POM Dance in fresher's week and had a chat to the captain who assured me they would make any adjustments they could to ensure I was welcome. So, I tried out for the team and got a place! I love going to training each week as it gives me a break from academic work but there is also no pressure if I can’t attend due to my health.  

My advice to others would be to cling on to hope, things will get better, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now. Also, make use of the support available to you. There is so much support available, but you have to reach out and get it – don't be scared to ask for help! 

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