Cancer no bar for law degree

CHARLEY MANN
Last updated 05:00 05/05/2012
Ben Brown
KIRK HARGREAVES/Fairfax NZ
GOOD RESULTS: Ben Brown wasn't interested in education, but last week he graduated with a first class honours degree in law part earned while he was fighting testicular cancer.

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He flunked high school, battled cancer and earned an honours degree. Solicitor Ben Brown does not do things by halves.


Brown, 25, graduated from Canterbury University with a first class honours degree in law last Friday. Not bad for someone who left high school with only fifth form qualifications and spent a year of his degree battling testicular cancer.

"University was just never on the cards, I wasn't interested," he said.

Enrolling in an information technology degree at CPIT after high school did nothing to advance his interest in education.

"I'd get letters from CPIT saying 'Please stop wasting our time and yours'," he said.

"So I left after a year and took a job at a freight-forwarding company."

Things changed when a friend suggested Brown, then 20, try studying law.

"I quit my job and told my dad on Christmas Day that I was going to study law. He was really dubious. I was pretty dubious myself to be fair."

Brown enrolled in a law and psychology degree and "loaded up" on English papers, knowing it was his weakest link.

He passed the first year with straight-A grades.

Along with his acceptance letter to the second year, he received letters from the law and psychology departments "congratulating me on my results and urging me to come back".

The same day he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. "So there I was lying in a bed in the emergency department, having just been diagnosed with cancer, and I look over and in the bed next to me is a man fully dressed as a clown. It was the most surreal feeling. They operated to remove the tumour on Christmas Eve."

Brown returned for his second year at university, but tests revealed the cancer had progressed to the lymph nodes in his back, requiring chemotherapy.

Brown was determined to continue with the degree, but decided to drop psychology to concentrate fully on law. "I would take my books into hospital and study," he said.

"My friends and family were hugely supportive, I always had someone with me in the chemo ward. During that time I only missed one lecture because my car battery was flat."

While the chemotherapy had rid his body of cancer, it had not shrunk the node in his back.

Brown underwent invasive surgery, "cut right down the front to reach the node at the back". He spent the rest of term flat on his back, typing up lecture notes.

Back at university for the final term of second year, Brown finished again with straight-A grades.

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He was glad the next three years were "comparatively uneventful".

Towards the end of the fourth year he was offered numerous summer clerk jobs. A "gut decision" saw him settle on Christchurch law firm Lane Neave.

Now working in the corporate and commercial team, specialising in intellectual property law, Brown said he would not change a thing.

"Everything I have been through I just see as quite an experience. I have just found something I love doing, and because I love what I do, it does not feel like hard work."

- The Press

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