You never know what life has in store for you, but you can control how you respond to unexpected curveballs. One alumna who knows all about picking herself up and starting again is alumna Martha Davies (Architecture BA(Hons) 2010).
Martha’s career aspirations were on track when she began her architecture degree at the University of Brighton in 2005. She also had a sideline enterprise to help support herself during her studies by baking and selling cakes for local pubs.
However, halfway through her studies, Martha noticed a small lump growing on her neck. Over the next three years, the lump grew to the size of a walnut which her doctor treated as a benign tumour and arranged to have surgically removed. Although the procedure was routine, Martha was advised of all the potential side effects of the surgery, which included the possibility of incurring a stroke.
In 2013, Martha had the operation to remove the tumour. Unfortunately the surgeons discovered that the tumour was cancerous and had become tangled amongst the nerves in her neck. Further surgery was needed to remove it so the surgeons stitched Martha up and discharged her the next day.
Martha returned home where her boyfriend Michael was staying with her. Martha recalled: “I can’t really remember very much of that day. I remember that my head hurt, but I wasn’t too worried, I just wanted to go home. I fell asleep and when I woke up I said ‘Mikey?’ but nothing came out. I couldn’t speak.”
Fortunately, Michael was aware of the Act FAST campaign publicised by the Stroke Association and recognised Martha’s symptoms as those associated with a stroke and called for an ambulance. Martha was admitted to hospital in Brighton, where doctors confirmed she had suffered a stroke, aged just 25.
When strokes occur, the blood supply to parts of the brain are cut off, damaging or killing brain cells. The effects can vary depending on where in the brain the stroke happened. For Martha, the damage affected the right-hand side of her body, including her ability to speak. Martha said: “I thought I was going to be permanently paralysed. It was very difficult to get my head around it.”
Three weeks later, Martha was transferred to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge where surgeons operated to remove her cancerous tumour. The complicated surgery caused irreversible damage to Martha’s vocal chords and has left with a raspy voice.
Martha spent another two months in hospital where she underwent extensive physiotherapy, before she was able to go home. The damage wrought by the stroke has affected the right-hand side of her body. Her right hand is tightly curled and her arm is limp. She also wears a splint to walk where her foot has been weakened by nerve damage.
This restricted mobility hampers everyday tasks, from getting dressed and washing her hair to cleaning the dishes. The physiotherapy is ongoing and Martha dedicates about 90 minutes daily to her exercises. “It’s taken a lot of time to get to now. My arm is moving, but not my hand. Luckily I’m left-handed. It [the physiotherapy] hurts. You have to grip on a ball and release it, over and over again. It’s painful, and it’s hard, but you’ve just got to carry on and do it.”
Despite such a crushing blow to her health and the consequences it brought, Martha’s outlook has been practical and determined: “There are times where I feel like ‘Why did it happen to me?’. But it has happened, so I’ve got to move on. I knew what was happening; I knew it was a stroke. I could just tell.”
Martha struggled to imagine pursuing a career in architecture with the physical limitations of moving away from home. By chance, Martha’s inspiration for a different career happened at the time of her sister’s wedding, when Martha made her a show-stopper of a wedding cake. The ensuing compliments for this successful bake were her catalyst for considering an alternate career to architecture – and one that was feasible to do from home – baking!
Martha has persevered with her physiotherapy and been resourceful in working round physical challenges involved in her bakery. She said: “I’ve come to learn new ways of doing things: when I crack an egg (which is quite a lot), I have to do it with one hand – which is quite difficult. Also turning out cakes is quite problematic as I have to do it with one hand, turning the cake over.”
Despite these obstacles and with her family’s support, Martha launched her business, Martha Rosie Bakes, last October. Martha’s mouth-watering creations became popular very quickly and she supplies her cakes to a lot of local shops and cafes. With expansion in mind, Martha has her eye on catering for bespoke occasion cakes including weddings, with an ultimate goal of running her own café.