DESPITE suffering the life-changing effects of ME since she was a teenager, Hayley Nicholas will be among the Swindon College students donning their graduation gowns and mortar boards today.

The 30-year-old, of Eldene, has passed her three-year AAT course in accountancy, and is now looking forward to a bright career.

She began suffering from the illness, which includes flu-like symptoms, when she was 14 years old, and missed so much school that she only gained one C grade at GCSE. The other three were Ds and Es.

She said: “ME has so many symptoms, it’s not just tiredness. I get ill if I push through the tiredness and my heart goes funny and I can’t breathe properly.

“It feels like when you’ve got flu and your arms and legs feel heavy and everything aches.

“I had to have time off while I was at college. They were really good and would email me and keep me updated with the work I needed to do. They were very understanding.”

ME, the common name for Myalgic Encephalopathy, can cause aching muscles, poor memory, sleep disturbance and symptoms which suggest ongoing abnormalities in the immune system such as a sore throat, enlarged glands and joint pain.

The former Dorcan pupil started feeling the symptoms when she was at school and had to have most of Years 10 and 11 off. Despite missing a lot of school, she gained four GCSEs with D and E grades, as well as a C in Maths.

“I didn’t know what was wrong with me at first,” she said. “I thought I just kept getting ill.

“I am proud that I’m graduating because I have achieved something. It has been really hard but I have stuck with it and kept going.”

A total of 165 Swindon College students will be graduating today, starting with a gown fitting at the Jurys Inn.

Students will then process through the town in gowns and mortar boards to the ceremony at Holy Rood Church in Groundwell Road.

Hayley’s mother, Marion, of Covingham, said: “I am just so proud of her when I think how hard that course must be. She made it seem simple.

“I knew she was smart but I didn’t know she would be able to apply herself as she has, and I am really pleased that she has.”

Hayley’s nine-year-old daughter, Isla, will also be at the graduation ceremony today.