“My mother’s death was completely unexpected.”
Eva Fernandez recalled hearing the news that her mother was seriously ill while studying a hairdressing diploma at City and Islington College (CANDI) as if it was yesterday.
“I rushed home, picked up my passport and got the first flight to Spain. I was with her for about two weeks before she died from pneumonia last November,” she said.
At that time Eva, 47, who is from Granada, was facing her own health issues having been diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2019.
“It was an incredibly stressful time for me. Fortunately, they caught the cancer early and I had a mastectomy. But the breast symmetry surgery I also needed kept being delayed because of the pressures placed on the health service by COVID-19 and not having enough staff.”
The surgery was delayed seven times until she finally underwent an operation in May this year.
“That was hard. You feel that your life is at a standstill. I couldn’t book a holiday in case the hospital got in contact and said they were going to do the operation while I was away.”
Eva, from Islington, admitted her mental health suffered but believed the support of her tutors at CANDI played a major part in her overcoming the challenges she faced during her studies.
“When I think about that time, I don’t know how I got through it and completed the course. I guess you have two options in that situation, give up or try to move on, and I didn’t want to sit at home crying,” she said.
“I talked to my tutors when I was in Spain with my mother, and they stressed that I shouldn’t worry. They told me I would catch up, offered me extra classes if I needed them and showed me video classes I could use. They encouraged me all the time and were incredibly kind. It was the same after my operation. I never felt any pressure to come back until I was ready.”
Eva came to the UK from Spain, where she had worked as a history teacher, in 2015. She initially intended to stay for three months to improve her English but stayed after meeting her boyfriend.
She has just started a Hairdressing Level 3 Diploma at CANDI having completed a Hairdressing Level 2 Diploma in 2021-22 and a Hairdressing Level 1 Certificate in 2020-21.
“It was crucial to me that the teachers thought I should do the Level 3 Diploma because I am good enough. I didn’t want to be put forward for it because they felt sympathy for me because of what I have been through. And they assured me I am good enough.”
Eva initially turned to hairdressing as a hobby when she began cutting friends’ hair during the pandemic and hopes one day to style the hair of the rich and famous.
“I was good at it. I found that it gives you freedom. You can create lots of different things with hair. It is very artistic, and I have an artistic mind. The college helps you gain as much knowledge as possible and it teaches you to be a professional,” she said.
“Once I complete my Level 3 my immediate ambition is to get a position in a salon. But longer term, I would love to style the hair of actors for movies or TV programmes. If not that, then for models on the catwalks at fashion shows. I live in London, so why not? I am very ambitious.”
Eva’s achievements earned her an Excellence Award from Capital City College Group (CCCG), which includes CCCT and CONEL along with City and Islington College and Westminster Kingsway College.