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AS a 20-year-old college student, being diagnosed with cancer was the last thing on Anthony Palmer’s mind when he went to the doctor about a mysterious lump.

The lump was actually nothing to worry about but an ultrasound at Doddington Hospital and further tests at Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon, picked up something else - testicular cancer.

Now aged 22, Anthony, who lives in March, said: “It was scary. When the doctor said it could be malignant, I didn’t even know what that meant. But then he said cancer. When you hear cancer, you think you’re going to die and that was the first thing I asked the doctor.”

Thanks to the swift actions of the hospital, within a week of his diagnosis Anthony had an operation and was back home. The early diagnosis meant he did not need radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

When Anthony was diagnosed, he was in the second year of an engineering apprenticeship with the College of West Anglia, working at Stainless Metalcraft in Chatteris.

Now he has been given a top national award for his dedication and commitment after being nominated by the college.

Anthony collected the National Adult Apprentice of the Year Award at a special ceremony in London, proudly watched by his parents and girlfriend of two years, Chelsea.

“I didn’t know what to say when I found out I’d won,” said Anthony, who is captain of Chatteris 1st cricket team.

“It was a bit surreal. When you come from a small town like Chatteris, you don’t expect to win something that big. My family are very proud and have always been very supportive of anything I do.”

Despite his illness, Anthony managed to finish his apprenticeship a year early. He achieved NVQ in Performing Engineering Operations level 2, BTEC First Certificate in Engineering level 2, Employment Responsibilities and Rights, and Semta Apprenticeship in Engineering Full Award, then went on to achieve NVQ in Fabrication and Welding level 3, BTEC National Award in Engineering level 3 and Semta Advanced Apprenticeship in Engineering Full Award.

One of his tutors, Carli Brown, said: “He has had the best feedback and reports and he brought a new lease of life to the department.

“He has a real thirst for learning, and now he’s finished his apprenticeship he wants to learn more, and we want to support him to do that.”

Although Anthony’s cancer diagnosis was traumatic for him, it gave him a new focus on life that he did not have before.

“You’re only going to be here once, so you might as well do something worthwhile. I never put a limit on anything I do now. I always do the best I can and this award is a bit of a reward.

“My cancer has made me really ambitious and I just want to be the best at everything. I don’t think I would have done that before.

“I had accepted having a dead-end job and not pushing myself, but not now.”

Anthony works as a fabrication welder at Stainless Metalcraft but has high aspirations for his future. He would like to do a degree and, in the next few months, is hoping to train as an inspector.

He would also like to use his story to urge other young men about the importance of checking themselves and not being afraid to go to a doctor if they find something.

He said: “I won’t shy away from telling other young people to check themselves. There is no age limit on cancer.”

Alan Tuckett, NIACE Chief Executive, said, “The stories of our award winners once again this year, the 20th Adult Learners’ Week, illustrate the overwhelmingly positive impact that learning has on people’s lives.

“The transformation that Anthony has experienced is due to his dedication, persistence and ambition. I hope that adults across the country will be inspired by Anthony’s story to take up learning and discover for themselves a whole new life.”