End of an Era

I felt I would leave this post slightly later than I had originally thought; back at the end of November I posted “Writing my thesis and co-fighting cancer”. At the beginning of fourth year, I made the decision, with the support of my 6 best friends and my year convenor to continue with university despite the circumstances my Mum was unfortunately put under. Today, we have both finally achieved our goals for the year which is why I left this post until now! This is my mum ringing the bell in radiotherapy ward after her final active treatment. This is me handing in my thesis in January and over the last two weeks I’ve found out my degree classification, my school and my class. It is all over, cancer treatment and fourth year. We are heading for graduation, the one goal the two of us set, 9 long months ago.

Now do not get me wrong, it was the hardest year of both our lives. In September when I decided to stay on at university, I knew it would be hard, but I could never have imagined just how hard it would be. The work level, the commuting back and forth to be home to see my mum and how horrible chemotherapy is. However, the last few weeks has shown me with hard work and dedication to a goal, anything is possible.

The hard work was not from me alone. There were countless people who helped us both along the way. From the fantastic staff at the University of Dundee, an unforgettable final placement school and a great mentor to get me through my final year of university to the staff at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy wards and the countless charities; Clan, Maggies, Anchor and Look Good Feel Better who have supported my mum in her fight. I wanted to take this time to reflect on the year and thank some very special people for their support.

Last month, I wrote a letter to the external examination board about my experience at the University of Dundee and I was genuinely teary eyed my time at university was over. I was teary eyed because of the fantastic staff who created a wonderful experience over the four years. In the letter I wrote “Whether the staff be newer to the team, such as Linda Lapere, Nikki Doig or Liz Larkin, staff who have left us during the four years, such as William Berry our MA 1-2 year convenor or Erika Cunningham or staff who have been by our side throughout the four years: Carrie McLennan; Mary Knight; Richard Holmes; Anna Robb; Derek Robertson; Patricia Thomson; Caroline Cottrell; and I think, as a year group, we would highlight Brenda Keatch in particular, for their full support over the four years to name a few. All the members of staff on the undergraduate course have supported and challenged us to no measure. The teachers we will become will be down their support and the support of the fantastic placements we have been given over the four years.” However, Anne Marie Moran, my interviewer in 2014, my first assignment marker and my first placement tutor; I wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to attempt this course without her belief in me four years ago.

Whenever anyone speaks to me about considering primary teacher undergraduate or university in general, I can never speak highly enough of University of Dundee. The content has challenged me academically and I cannot wait to put the content of the four years to action with my own class next year. The four years has shaped me as a teacher and as a person, it has developed my professional and personal interests; pointing me into the direction of my future to hopefully studying for my Masters in Outdoor Learning at Moray House in Edinburgh someday, thanks to the Learning from Life placement in second year at Adventure Aberdeen.

There are two teachers in particular who have shaped me as a teacher; Diana Mitchell and Paul Gordon my third and fourth year placement mentors. I could not have imagined how lucky I would have been when I was placed in their classes for the continued support and encouragement they always gave me. I was blessed to observe their wonderful practice with their classes but also with me. They have shown me how to be a great teacher, left me with lots of ideas to think of and lesson quality to aspire to. The two of them also showed me how to be a great mentor one day to a student. I feel ready for the next chapter with my own class thanks to both of them!

With over 100 appointments in nine months, my whole family received comfort and support from numerous charities and staff at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. However, for myself I think the biggest comfort possible was one of my best friends Annah being one of my mum’s radiotherapists. I knew for a fact my mum would be in fantastic, caring hands. Annah and Findlay have both been there checking in with me throughout the whole nine months. I knew coming towards the end of a long nine months of treatment and hard work for my mum radiotherapy would be the light at the end of the tunnel but the staff in the ward and the Anchor charity ladies has made this experience a lot easier for her. I look forward to carrying the Anchor badge with me throughout my NQT year to remember how fantastic they have been!

Finally, I cannot thank five people in particular enough who were there from start to finish emotionally and academically throughout the year; Stephanie, Shannon, Marcus, Katie and Jenny. Stephanie has lived with me for three of the four years at university and always been one of my biggest support systems and cheerleaders throughout. I could not have expected the amount of times I would end up in her room with a story to tell, she always listened and was always there with a hug! Shannon, Shannon is simply my best friend whenever I need her she is a phone call away and never fails to cheer me up no end. Marcus for the endless chats, tea and keeping me with the motivation to stay at university. Marcus has been the one person who never failed to make me smile, make me a cup of tea and give me a hug! Katie has cooked me countless dinners when coming back from Aberdeen and I have had no energy to do anything and alongside Jenny has kept me on track with any deadlines throughout the year. Jenny and I handed in our first assignment together and our thesis at the end, much to her shock we have been together since day one and we have supported one another through every piece of work we’ve ever submitted.

However, without ‘Vanilla’ as a whole, the degree wouldn’t have been half as memorable! Poor Ruairidh, stuck with me for next year and the start of the next chapter as a Newly Qualified Teachers!


Writing my thesis and co-fighting cancer.

Stress, tears, laughter, happiness, a cold (or multiple of them, primary schools are germy places), a huge work load and a lot of food (my group likes to celebrate with food) were some of the many things I imagined over the summer would appear in my final year of university. One thing I didn’t expect was cancer. Unfortunately, however, here I am writing this blog.

A little bit of back story: my mum, an incredibly brave and strong lady, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of the summer before I was heading into my final year of university not long after my auntie (my mum’s sister in law) had also been diagnosed with the same form of cancer. My mum recently asked me to write a little bit about how I was feeling so there was something to look back on so this post isn’t for sympathy or empathy; it is purely for my mum.

There was no way I ready or expecting the news my mum told me when I got back from Berlin, I still cry even thinking about that moment in our conservatory when everything changed in our lives. My mum told me there was a good chance she probably had cancer but was waiting for the diagnosis from the doctor. There and then I was ready to take a year out of university so I could be home to look after my mum. However, my mum had other plans, of course. Graduation is her goal and I know we will both be there. Since the moment of being in the conservatory, there have been so many ups and down since then; my mum was unfortunately diagnosed which was of course heart breaking but there was no better feeling than taking a couple of minutes out of a lecture (Sorry Anna!) to hear the first round of chemotherapy had worked and the cancer was shrinking. I remember going back into the lecture, sitting in between two of my best friends unable to put into words what I had just been told because I simply could not stop smiling. I was so unbelievably proud of my mum. It has been so hard watching her so ill for the first week after a round of chemotherapy but the good news, for me, makes it all worthwhile as we are one step closer to beating it.

For the lecturer, we were asked to cross stitch a slogan (I am not going to lie, I missed the bit where Anna explained why we were doing this) but between my two friends and I we made this (see below) which now has pride of place on my mum’s dining room wall next to our family photos. As awful as the situation is, I have never seen our family closer; we are a busy bunch, we live in different cities/towns and we often don’t get the chance to speak to one another as much as we would like but nowadays family is a lot more important to our household and extended family and we are all fighting this together which is what our cross stitch symbolises. There is a lot going on in the family but that means there is even more support which is what gets us, especially my mum and auntie, through this difficult time.

I expected to spend many hours of this academic year writing my thesis at the library, the last place I expected to write parts of my thesis was in the chemotherapy ward at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary but there has been no better motivation to get my thesis written. I want to spend as much time as possible with my mum and have a good Christmas together so sitting in the hospital thinking if my mum can sit here fighting cancer with the goal of my graduation to do so then I can absolutely sit beside her and write part of my thesis with the goal of my graduation also in mind.

Over the last few months, in amongst my studies, I have tried to do as many fundraising events for MacMillan Cancer support from coffee mornings, walking across the Queensferry Crossing (even though I hate bridges) to Sober October as a family which I should say, easily the most challenging. After sending hours in the library staring at a computer screen, there was sometimes nothing more I wanted than to go out for a nice meal with my friends/boyfriend and have a glass of wine. However, I knew if my mum couldn’t drink because of the chemotherapy which I can imagine being much tougher than my thesis then I could go a month without a drink. My mum and I have the goal to be fit enough to do the Race for Life in summer hopefully to mark the end of this journey!

There is no way I would still be at university if it wasn’t for the constant support of the lecturers, my best friends, flat mate, boyfriend and of course my family! I cannot thank the wards and Maggies at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary enough for all they are doing for my mum and I intend to make her as proud as she is making me.

If nothing else comes of this post than giving my mum something to read when she is bored at home then so be it but if it makes the horrible situation that you just want to sometimes bottle up and not speak about easier for anyone else in a similar situation feel able to talk about then it has been worthwhile.

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