KADINA High graduate Amber Jarvis-Thirlaway's ATAR will be a minor detail compared to the path her life has taken in her final years of school.
For Amber, whose mother died following a cancer battle in July, just getting through her final year was an extraordinary victory.
After her mother was diagnosed with cancer for the second time two years ago, Amber, an only child, took complete responsibility for her care.
"We thought it had gone away again at the end of last year, and then in January and February we were told it was worse than we thought and the tumour had grown," Amber said.
"It's always been just Mum and I; since I was very little.
"She was my best friend as well as my mum."
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When her mother died in July, days before her HSC trials, Amber seriously considered whether to continue.
It wasn't just feeling the sadness of her mother's passing, but having to move out of their rental property and into a friend's home.
She recalled times she wanted to "pretend nothing existed" and stay in bed.
"I'd have good days and bad days," Amber said.
"It was getting there and concentrating for a day that was difficult.
"But one of my friends would call me or text me and say: 'C'mon, where are you, get up and come to school'.
"You do have those days when you want to go home and say 'Mum, I had the worst day ever', or if something really great happened.
"It's still not really hitting me that I can't go home and have that talk."
Currently a gymnastics instructor in South Lismore, she's hoping to continue with that while getting a TAFE qualification in early childhood education, and later a degree in health promotion and nutrition.
"I made it and that's enough for me," she said.
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