Liz Porter had a beaming smile on her face when she graduated on Tuesday from the University of Cumbria. For Liz, a former teacher from Warrington, Cheshire, it’s been a long road to completing her MA in Education Professional Practice.
Liz told us: “I started the course, which I completed via online distance learning, in 2011 when I was still working full time as a teacher. I’d never really been ill before this but in October 2015 I was admitted to hospital due to my asthma.
“I was signed off work on long term sick leave and advised to take some time out from my course.”
Unbeknownst to Liz, this would be the start of a harrowing two year period of ill health which would see her hospitalised every two-four weeks throughout 2016 and undergo multiple surgeries in 2017.
After suffering badly with her asthma Liz went on to develop mastoiditis, an infection of the mastoid bone behind her right ear.
She explained how this impacted on her daily life: “It became a vicious circle, I would be hospitalised for treatment for the mastoiditis, and then my chest would start to play up. I would be on antibiotics for the mastoiditis and steroids to treat my chest. I then developed steroid induced cataracts in both eyes so I couldn’t see properly.
“I couldn’t attend all of my hospital appointments as very often the appointment for my eyes was in a different hospital to where I was being treated for my ear or vice versa. This meant my treatments kept getting delayed. It was really tough.”
Liz spent her birthday in hospital in 2016 but managed to make it home for Christmas. However by the start of 2017, Liz’s condition deteriorated again, her eyes and mastoiditis both got worse and she spent six weeks on an IV antibiotic drip at home.
In 2015 she had completed all of the work to get her post graduate diploma in education professional practice, which was awarded in 2016, so she contemplated giving up on her MA.
Liz says: “I was ready to give up but programme leader Pippa Leslie persuaded me to carry on. In 2017 I took another rest year and the university obtained special permission for me to extend my studies.
“In April of that year, the six week course of IV antibiotics caused toxic hepatitis so I had to spend a further six weeks in hospital.
“During that six week period I had an operation to treat my mastoiditis where they drilled out part of the bone that was infected. The recovery was tough. My body was dealing with so many different things at once.”
Liz finally left hospital in May 2017 on crutches. Still suffering with her cataracts and experiencing vertigo and motion sickness following her ear operation, it was difficult to leave the house.
Finally, in July 2017 she had one of her cataracts removed and the other removed in September of the same year. Immediately following her second cataract operation, she developed severe tonsillitis and was again hospitalised.
“They took my tonsils out after four weeks of being in and out of hospital, and again my recovery was slow,” she said.
Throughout all of this, Liz had kept in touch with the university and finally, in March 2018, she was able to restart her MA.
Liz regularly spoke to her tutors and says: “I used to skype Ann Kendrick and email Pippa in between my hospital appointments and they were both so supportive. Studying for my MA again gave me something to focus on other than all of my health problems. It literally kept me going.
“I finally submitted my dissertation in January 2019 and immediately got sick again. I ended up spending another birthday in hospital.”
Liz spent a further 12 days in hospital, and has continued to battle with her illnesses. She’s not out of the woods yet and is due to have another operation on her ear in the next few months. This time she will undergo mastoid obliteration surgery and they hope to be able to reconstruct the bones in her middle ear to improve her hearing.
After eight long years, multiple illnesses and two birthday’s spent in hospital, it was an extra special moment for Liz when she found out she had passed her course.
Liz goes on to say: “I was over the moon to hear that I’d passed and able to graduate this November. Every time I get sick, I just hold on to the fact that I have my graduation ceremony to look forward to.”
Now that she has completed her course, Liz is hoping that ultimately her MA will open doors within the field of education for her and allow her to build on previous experience. At the moment though, her main focus is getting through her next major operation.
She says: “It’s been quite a while since I’ve really thought about much beyond enjoying the here and now, when I’m well enough to do so.
“I think what I’m hoping for following my next big op is more stability with my health that will allow me to think more long term about how achieving my MA will help me progress.
“For now I think getting well again and enjoying graduation are my two aims! After that, who knows where my MA will take me!”