A fog of personal pain and trauma plagued an Edinburgh mum for six years as she battled to survive cancer and support her family through bereavement and extreme adversity.
But getting Vikki Spence, 41, out of bed each day was the thought that she would one day achieve her goal of gaining an honours degree.
It was her determination to succeed despite dealing with her father’s death, her own diagnosis of cervical cancer as well as caring for her mother, and supporting her two children with Asperger syndrome that earned her the Open University’s Graduate Award as well as a 2:1 in childhood and youth studies.
Awarded by the Association of Open University Graduates, an independent member-led organisation, to a student who has overcome adversity, Vikki was nominated by fellow student Rachael Redfern after hearing about the hurdles she faced during her degree.
The mum-of-two from Leith started the course through the Open University in 2010.
Spurred on by a friend, she signed up and enjoyed it so much after her first year, she took on a second course.
But tragedy struck in March 2011 when Vikki was told she had cervical cancer and would need to undergo major surgery. When most people would have given up, Vikki pushed harder – her inspiration being the thought of one day holding her own degree certificate.
“It gave me something to focus on when life was throwing me constant curveballs,” she said. “Focussing on deadlines kept my mind off what I was dealing with.”
And being able to study through the Open University, a mainly online course, gave Vikki more flexibility when she was thrown one challenge after another.
She explained: “If I had been studying at another university I would not have been able to continue but the OU allowed me to go at my own pace and juggle my life.
“It was difficult after my diagnosis as my children were young and shortly after my granny was also diagnosed with cancer. A few months after that my dad, who lived in the Canary Islands, died.
“It was a complicated relationship and therefore much harder to deal with and took me longer to get over.”
Not long after, Vikki’s father-in-law had a major stroke and was admitted to a rehabilitation clinic in Kirkcaldy. “My husband Ewan doesn’t drive, so I was driving him to visit as well as supporting his mum, who was diagnosed with MS,” Vikki added. “Then my mum had a stroke and I was supporting her too.”
Vikki and Ewan’s daughters Eilidh, 15, and Mairi, 13, were subsequently tested and diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.
“It took a long time getting Mairi assessed and during the process I was also diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. It was six months from the end of my final course. Leading up to this point had been a very difficult time for me and I had not been coping very well with things but I was determined to complete the course.
“I look back over the things that have happened and wonder how I got through it, but I just threw myself into the books and got used to dealing with lots of things at the same time.
Susan Stewart, director of the Open University in Scotland, said: “Vikki is a truly incredible example of what it means to be a graduate of the OU. Her resilience and determination in completing her degree is nothing short of inspiring, and I’m so pleased that she is being recognised for that.”