When Fashion Design graduate Samantha Griffiths was suffering from headaches in her first year at university, she thought she may need glasses – but her trip to the optician revealed a potentially fatal brain tumour.
Samantha, then aged just 19, was told that the tumour was causing so much pressure behind her eyes that it could have left her blind, or even killed her, if she hadn’t gone to get checked when she did. Just three days later, she underwent a lifesaving operation to relieve the pressure by a new passage being drilled through her brain.
Now completely recovered, she is about to graduate with a 1st class honours from the University of South Wales (USW) and is looking forward to starting her career as a fashion designer.
“I’d been having terrible headaches and was really sensitive to light,” said Samantha, now 24, from Cadoxton, Neath.
“My gran had sadly passed away at the start of the year, so I thought maybe I had become depressed. It made sense at the time because I was no longer enjoying my uni work, even though I’d always wanted to study fashion, so I knew something wasn’t right.
“I went back and forth to my GP and they put it down to depression, but I felt in my gut that it wasn’t; I just couldn’t work out why I was in so much pain. So I decided to see the optician and once he looked behind my eyes, I was rushed to A&E and that’s when they discovered the tumour.
“As soon as the doctor told me, I convinced myself that it was cancer and that I wasn’t going to survive. I was in a state of shock, and started thinking about all the things I hadn’t yet done in life.”
Thankfully, Samantha’s operation at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, went smoothly and although she still has the tumour, it no longer causes her problems and she is able to lead a relatively normal life, with regular MRI scans and eye tests to monitor her brain health.
Having taken some time out to recover, Samantha returned to USW to re-take part of the studies she had missed, before spending a year in London on work placements with some of the industry’s biggest brands.
“I did a series of internships with labels including Julien Macdonald, Ted Baker and GTIG London, which make clothes for all sorts of high street shops such as Primark, Zara, Bonmarche and even some supermarkets,” she said.
“They were all completely different, and helped me to focus on the customer when designing a garment rather than just following the latest trends. I learned a lot about how the industry works, and I was able to vastly improve my CAD [computer aided design] skills which was invaluable.
Throughout her studies, Samantha has worked on designs that specifically meet the needs of the customer, including garments for amputees, which have helped refine her problem-solving creativity.
Her graduate collection focuses on working women, and how so many have had to adapt to working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I was keen not to just create workwear that was like everything that had come before,” she said.
“I made a series of garments that could be adapted to different environments, from sitting on the sofa, to attending a business meeting, to going out for drinks after work – addressing the adaptability that women have needed over the past 18 months.
“I also used the concept of empowering women in terms of their mental wellbeing, as the pandemic has been so tough on so many people. Some days, just getting out of bed and getting dressed to face another day can be challenging, so I wanted to take that into account too.
“USW has been amazingly supportive throughout my time on the course. The lecturers all care about us as if we were family, and really focus on helping us become the very best we can be. Coming to study here was the best decision I’ve ever made.”