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Lucy talks about juggling caring with studying

12 June 2017

For the last year, Lucy O'Brien, a 29-year-old mental health nursing student from the University of South Wales, has been the sole carer for her mother, who has terminal cancer and is now receiving palliative care at home.

An estimated 6m people in the UK are carers – giving their own time to help support a friend or relative with a disability, illness or condition.

IMG 9705My Bionic Woman
"It was on my mother's 50th birthday that she complained of having a bad back. She couldn't enjoy her birthday because of the pain.

X-ray results revealed that the breast cancer had spread to her bones, making it terminal. Since then, I have been my mother's right arm – taking her to appointments, performing personal care, nursing and giving her strength after each operation (11 in total). I call her the Bionic Woman!


Mam has always been fiercely independent, and was adamant that she didn't want to be looked after and bed bathed by a stranger, so we agreed that I would do all this for her. Luckily with my nurse training I'm trusted with the hoist to continue her personal care, even when in hospital.

She is so proud of me

Studying for my nursing degree alongside caring for my mam has been really tough, but in many ways it has been my saviour. Having something else to think about and focus on, just for a few hours, really helps. There can be a huge amount of emotional stress with being a carer; life is unpredictable because mam's health varies so much.

I am so lucky that I have a supportive tutor, Karyn Davies, who has pulled me through the tough times at University, practically and emotionally, and has allowed me to not be there when I'm needed at home.

My friends on the course are wonderful too. If I miss a class or when we have essays to do, they will organise study groups. And when I am having a bad day, one of them will drive over and pick me up and take me to Uni. They have been my life line.

I promised my mother that her illness wouldn't affect my studies. She was very proud when I made the decision to become a nurse. It was because of Mam that I decided to study nursing, but it was seeing the effect of her illness on my dad that prompted me to choose mental health nursing. I could see how much he was struggling with it inside. Men are often not very good at talking about their problems, are they?


My fighting spirit comes from her

There have been times when the doctors haven't wanted to treat Mam because they didn't think she would pull through but I've dug in my heels, used my nursing knowledge and fought their decision. I think I get my stubborn streak from her!

She says she wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for me. Now on good days, we're able to go out with her mobility scooter, and visit my nephew and niece, and she's able to enjoy what time she has left with her family.

Because I get a bursary with the nursing degree, I don't qualify for a carer's allowance. Luckily, dad works full time and I do bank shifts in the night to bump up my bursary; otherwise, I think I would struggle.

It is easy to see how being a carer can adversely affect your education, as well as your health and mental wellbeing but I won't let it. I have a great family network, and we all play our part, Dad supports me financially when I'm unable to work, and my brother is my rock. I'm a strong believer in being outdoors. I ride my horse, kayak and take the dog out as ways to relieve stress.

Cancer won't dictate my life
I wish there wasn't such a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to care and support. We didn't want someone to come in and do all the personal care for Mam, but that's all that was on offer. For me, it would be a help to know that someone was popping in to check on Mam during the day and being a friendly face.

Just because you are a carer, it doesn't mean you can't follow your dreams and take on a degree at the same time. Yes, it's hard, but it is possible as long as you have the motivation and good family and friends around you.

I can't - and won't – let cancer win and dictate my life. Just as my mum has fought so hard and defied many odds, so will I. She's so strong and she is my inspiration."

Lucy will be an amazing nurse
Lucy's tutor Karyn Davies said: "Not only is Lucy doing really well academically, but she is also receiving positive reports and feedback from her mentors out in clinical practice. Undertaking a Mental Health nursing degree can be challenging at the best of times and despite Lucy's current personal situation as a carer for her mum she continues to demonstrate real commitment to becoming a registered nurse. I anticipate that with support, Lucy will continue to do well with her studies and become a real champion for mental health nursing."

Carers Week 2017

These organisations have joined together to make Carers Week happen in 2017.

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  • Carers UK new logo
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  • independent age
  • macmillan
  • MSS-logo-orange partnersrow
  • MND logo
  • Which Elderly Care logo

Proudly supported by:

  • The Lockwood
    Charitable Foundation
  • Nutricia

 

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