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Finishing Year 12 With Cancer: How Students Cope When Study Isn’t Their Only Stress

Year 12 is one of the toughest life tests a teen will experience, but for Melbourne student Amir Khoshbin he faced it on top of a cancer battle and meeting his mum for the first time - here's his remarkable story.

The last two years have been a turbulent time for Amir.

The 18-year-old's life was uprooted to move to Australia where he finished his studies, and he was also diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

That's a lot for anyone to deal with, let alone a teenager.

"The way I think of it is, I think I have big plans coming up for me," Amir told 10 daily.

What has happened to me is actually making me stronger, to be ready for that.
LEAVING FAMILY BEHIND

Amir grew up in Tehran, Iran's capital, where he said his childhood was much like other kids -- until he turned 16.

"I realised the person who I called my mother for 15 years was not my mum," he said.

Amir was born in Tehran, Iran's capital. Image: Supplied

Amir said he found out his parents had divorced when he was much younger, and that he'd been living with his stepmother and half brother.

"We were very close," he said, of his half brother.

Soon after, Amir received a call from his biological mother who lived in Australia. A year later, she arrived in Tehran.

MEETING MUM AT 17

"When I first saw her, it was a bit awkward. Seeing someone who is a total stranger, and she is your mum ... it's a little bit odd," he said.

"After a while, we got a bit more comfortable."

Amir and his mother spent about a month together. After a few more visits, he said she asked him to move to Australia.

In December 2017, the then 16-year-old picked up his life and flew to Melbourne.

Amir pictured with his biological mother in Melbourne. Image: Supplied
NEW KID, NEW LANGUAGE

"It was difficult because I left everything and came to a country with a new language where everything is different," Amir said of his arrival in Australia.

I didn't have any friends here. I could hardly speak English.

But that soon began to change. Amir was enrolled at Frankston High School, in the city's outer suburbs, where he would complete year 11 and year 12.

He said he was the only Persian student at the school and knew he had a long way to go to improve his English.

"It was actually one of my main concerns at the time. I was struggling a lot -- especially not having any close friends to support me," he said.

Amir completed year 11 and year 12 at Frankston High School in Melbourne. Image: Supplied

Helen Wilson, the school's senior campus principal, said Amir was a dedicated student who had a goal to get into business school.

"He is highly self-motivated and had clear set goals on what he wanted to achieve," she told 10 daily.

THE NEWS NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR

Then came another shocking blow. In April, Amir -- a regular gym-goer -- suffered a bad pain in his leg.

"I didn't take it seriously; I thought it was because of the gym. After a while, mum forced me to go to the doctor," he said.

Prior to his diagnosis, Amir said he was a keen gym-goer. Image: Supplied

Amir was diagnosed with Euing Sarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer that often begins in the legs, bones of the pelvis and arms.

It was the first time he had stepped foot in a hospital.

When you hear this stuff, you always thing having cancer is for other people. You can't believe it when it happens to you.

Amir started chemotherapy and radiation immediately, which put a strain on his well-being and his studies in a country he was still settling into.

But he was determined to keep turning up to school.

"I tried to keep going ... about three times a week. The school was really supportive of that," Amir said.

The school's well-being coordinator even drove him to his chemotherapy visits.

Wilson said she saw how Amir's diagnosis devastated him.

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"He was overwhelmed with all the work that he had to do ... he was nauseous and fatigued all the time," she said.

"It became a group effort to break his work down into manageable tasks, as he adjusted to a new way of learning via email or phone."

It's a reality Amir is still facing, he will have his final round of chemotherapy next week.

Amir Khoshbin was diagnosed with cancer in April. Image: Supplied

Amir's illness means he is too unwell to complete his year 12 exams, delaying his plans to get the grades to get into a business degree.

Instead, he said he plans to undertake a diploma of business, which he hopes will translate into a bachelor's degree.

Frankston High School's principal John Albiston said he's excited for what Amir's future holds.

"We know how difficult this has been during arguably the most demanding year, let alone his history and significant health challenges," he told 10 daily. 

We couldn't be more proud of him.

For Amir, proud is a big word.

"I think many people are going through way worse than what I’m going through. But I'm happy I was able to handle it," he said.

HOMESICK

In his time in Melbourne, Amir's family -- and his homeland -- have never been far from his mind.

Amir pictured (fifth from the right) with his father's family in Iran. Image: Supplied

He spoke of his dreams to "change the situation" in Iran, where the country faces broad sanctions imposed by the US government over its nuclear program.

In May last year, the Trump administration formally withdrew from the international nuclear agreement with Iran.

International organisation Human Rights Watch claims the sanctions are limiting Iran's ability to finance its humanitarian imports, posing a serious threat to the health of its people.

"It hurts me when I think about this stuff, about my country, about the economic problems," Amir said.

People are suffering and I can't do anything about it.

"My dream was always to change that situation, become someone who is able to do that; to change the system and to make it a better place for other people."

Amir said he enjoys living in Melbourne, but he doesn't know what his future holds. Image: Supplied

Right now, Amir doesn't know what his future holds. He is unable to return home to visit his family, where military conscription is compulsory when men turn 18.

"Nothing is clear now. We are just trying," he said. 

Contact the author ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au