Balancing Study and family life

Striving to complete your degree to a high standard is no easy feat. It requires self-discipline, motivation, great organisation and prioritisation – especially when you have 2 young children to look after at home!

Needless to say I have had to make sacrifices along the way to strike a comfortable work/life balance. I have missed out on family movie nights and walks by the river in favour of sitting on my bed, in isolation, typing away and tweaking assignments, aiming for perfection and treating each assignment as if it were a defining moment of my career.

Similarly there were often times where I had to leave my work behind, just as I was ‘in the flow of things’, to fetch my eldest from school. Or having to pack the laptop, books and research papers away when the baby woke from his nap. Or putting it ALL on hold because everyone in the house is sick when there are deadlines to meet!

One decision I have slightly regretted was closing my Open University books and packing away my revision cards in favour of climbing Pen-y-fan, the highest mountain in South Wales. It was a beautiful summer weekend, I’d been cooped up for a fortnight revising for two upcoming exams. I’d sat one exam and just needed to get out! I’d convinced my husband and son to come with me on this ‘fun’ challenge.

Well I regret it for two reasons:

Firstly, I never made it to the top! My son didn’t see the point of the challenge and seriously lacks stamina for this kind of thing. Also, my husband has a medical condition, meaning he needed to rest regularly because of leg cramps. The ‘venture’ resulted in me carrying my son back down the mountain using the Fire-man hold (along with a backpack of snacks and water), whilst my husband limped behind. Now I could have/should have used the rest of the day to revise in a proficient way, but instead I lay in my sons paddling pool, with my head and shoulders dangling over the edge, flicking through my Uni books with a cool beverage in my hand, still trying to take embed some further knowledge, while soaking up the sun’s rays.

Secondly, although I passed my exam (Yay!), I got a grade 2. Now I know a grade 2 is a good achievement by most people’s standards, but I am a perfectionist. I have had Distinctions in every other module. So now, when I look down the list of module results, that grade 2 is just staring at me and I feel that it just shouldn’t be there. I looks inconsistent.

Now, as I stare back at that grade 2 I have two thoughts. 1) I could have done better. 2) That was a lovely sunny summers day I had with my family!

Untitled

The point I make is, in life we often have to make sacrifices. Working mothers feel guilty for not being there for their children, to take them to and pick them up from school, having to miss the Christmas plays and Sports days. Stay at home mothers feel guilty for not contributing financially to the home and feel judged by others for not working. The truth is you must do what is best for you, within your means, at that time. We all make sacrifices to achieve the best work/life balance and we should feel proud of these sacrifices, because it shows us that we are able to recognise what’s more important in the long run.

Advertisements

Final module – Researching aniridia

In February this year (2018) I started the final module for my degree, a literature review of the latest research in my chosen topic. Suggested topics included stem cells and human senses (among others). I wanted to pick something that I could relate to on a personal level, knowing it would motivate me to do the best I could – so I chose aniridia.

I chose it because my cousin, Allyn, who recently wrote an article for Aniridia Network was born with aniridia. Up until very recently I didn’t know what it was. I knew he had trouble with his eyes and had undergone many surgeries. I knew he’d had stem cell therapy and a corneal transplant, but my knowledge ended there and I decided I wanted to know more, at a scientific level.

Allyn

Growing up with Allyn, as part of a large family, I didn’t think of him any differently to any other cousin – he was loud, energetic, loved pizza and was pretty annoying on times. In recent years, when I realised how progressively worse his eyesight had become I wished and prayed for him to regain his sight, so he could live his life to the fullest. As a family we sat and awaited the news of how his latest eye surgeries had gone – when I heard that it had improved his vision and he told his sister “You’re just as ugly as I remember” (that’s our family’s humour for you!) I both laughed and cried, feeling overjoyed for him and hopeful.

So, I began my research. It was extremely obvious very early on that anirdia in its entirety was too large a topic. With the condition affecting multiple parts of the eye and me being restricted in my word count, I decided to solely focus of the cornea. I began looking at the genetic cause of aniridia and came across the term WAGR. Suddenly, everything clicked into place and made more sense. I remember my Nan telling me that Allyn had had Kidney cancer when he was a baby – she told me as she looked at the picture on her wall, of Allyn and his parents meeting Princess Diana on the hospital ward. I didn’t understand back then, but now I did and I cried. I cried for all he’s had to go through and I felt bad that I hadn’t sought to understand sooner. From this point onwards everything took on a new level of meaning for me.

In April I went to the Aniridia conference in London and was delighted to hear Mariya Moosajee talk of her research – the very stuff I had been reading in isolation, at home. I looked around me seeing the wonderful support network created by those with aniridia. The dad of a young girl told me about how he practically diagnosed his own daughter with some basic knowledge in biology and the use of the internet! I spoke with a mum whom had travelled from Russia and heard about her efforts to support those in her care. I was inspired! Mariya also mentioned the drug Ataluren, a nonsense suppression therapy which I had just been reading about, currently in phase 2 clinical trials (expected end date of December 2019). After spending so much time reading about the low success rates for corneal transplantations, this seemed so hopeful. I was both excited about the prospects of the research, but also saddened for those that it would not benefit – those without aniridia caused by nonsense mutations, such as Allyn.

https://aniridia.org.uk/conference-2018/

As my ‘project’ developed I became increasingly obsessed – seeking the best way to bring the information together and consolidate what I’d found. In the last 4 weeks of writing my review my Grandmother sadly passed away quite suddenly, leaving me distracted. Having started a new job that same week I became quite disheartened with my progress. I felt forced to reduce my scope and submit a piece of work that was not to the standard that I would have liked. I felt like I had failed myself and was letting down my family for not producing work of a high enough standard.

Well, the results came in last week… I was awarded a distinction for my work! Obviously I am happy with this, but more importantly this project has helped me realise that I want a career helping others. I don’t think I’ll have a career in ophthalmology, but whether it be in research or something else, I want to help improve the lives of others by what I do.

IMG_7588

Thank you, Allyn, for being my inspiration, my motivation and for the emotional support you have given me over the years. You were my shoulder to lean on when I needed it and I am so proud of you, for all that you have endured and achieved.