Cancer survivor is inspiration to fellow students

There was a time when nursing student, Gwendoline Carter, was unsure if she would live to see the day of her graduation. Only two and a half years on from her diagnosis with advanced breast cancer, she proved her strength as a survivor when she collected her degree on Friday 9 December.

Gwendoline (49), who is currently living between her home on Station road, Keith, and her mother’s in Aberdeen, battled with both her own ill health and family tragedy to graduate last week with a Bachelor degree in Adult Nursing.

Having always wanted to undertake nursing study, but postponing to raise her family, Gwendoline joined the RGU programme in 2005 directly after completing an access course at Banff and Buchan College.  She joined in the same year as her youngest son, Allan, and had originally planned to graduate in 2008 with him.

However, with only three months to complete her degree, she opted to take an authorised break when her father was diagnosed with a recurrence of bowel cancer. She took six months off to spend more time with him but he sadly passed away just as she was due to return to her studies.  Despite dealing with the bereavement and her own failing health, she rejoined the course in February 2009.

Only four days into her final placement, Gwendoline was given her shocking diagnosis, having just been screened at the Breast Clinic in Aberdeen days earlier. Due to the advanced stage of the cancer, she was immediately admitted to hospital for several surgical procedures, followed by intense bouts of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

“This was a scary time for me,” explains Gwendoline. “Thankfully, throughout my treatment I was supported by friends and family, such as by my eldest son, Steven, who took time off to care for me, holding my hand through all the ups and downs I experienced.

“The university also kept in touch, sending me get well cards and phoning to ask how I was. I was concerned that I might not be able to return again after two lengthy breaks, which is not normally acceptable, but I was reassured at each step that they were with me and would support my return any way they could.”
Gwendoline was eventually able to rejoin the course in a part-time capacity in May 2010, completing it in June this year. Aside from citing the support of various members of RGU staff, she makes specific mention of her district nurse, Dianne Mitchell from Keith Health Centre, who helped inspire her self-motivation through the darker period of her treatment.

During her time off, Gwendoline was invited by the university to deliver a talk to current students about patient experience. This was very well received, and she has consequently been asked to return every year, making this a regular element of a third year nursing module.

The feedback and evaluation of the lecture was so positive that she used it as the basis of an article she co-authored with Associate Head of School, Dr Ruth Taylor, and which has been accepted for publication in the Nursing Times in the early 2012.

Looking back at her experiences over the last few years, Gwendoline said: “I am glad in a way I didn’t graduate in 2008, because my experience has made me much more aware of how it feels to be a patient. I feel that it has made me a better, stronger person and more prepared to fully empathise with those in my care.”

Gwendoline was joined at her graduation ceremony by her mother and eldest son, Steven.  She looks forward to securing a role as a newly qualified nurse in the very near future.


Andrew Youngson
Communications Officer | Faculty of Health and Social Care
Robert Gordon University
AB10 1FR
Tel: 01224 262389