Despite a catalogue of unimaginable challenges, single mother Karen Irvine has fought through the most difficult four years of her life to graduate from Robert Gordon University this week.
Karen (35), who comes from Westhill Crescent, Westhill, collected her much-deserved BA (Hons) degree in Social Work in a morning ceremony held at His Majesty's Theatre on Wednesday 13 July.
A sufferer of scoliosis - a medical condition in which a person's spine is curved from side to side - Karen worked hard throughout her studies to manage her workload while also dealing with chronic, and often crippling, pain.
Unfortunately, despite a series of steroid injections directly into her spine, and taking a cocktail of painkillers on a prolonged basis, her condition worsened to the point where, in her second year, she had to move to a bungalow as she could no longer climb stairs.
At the same time, she experienced a number of family-related challenges including the diagnosis of her daughter with epilepsy, her mother with breast cancer, and the trauma of her grandmother taking a serious fall and consequently relocating to a nursing home. Furthermore, her studies were complicated by her own dyslexia which was only diagnosed in her fourth year.
Almost exactly one year ago, things started looking up for Karen. In the last week of her third year, she finally underwent major surgery to straighten her spine, involving two solid metal rods and 20 screws being implanted in her back. While her mobility is still restricted, the operation has vastly improved her quality of life.
She has learned to manage her dyslexia with the support of the university's disability and dyslexia service.
Looking back at her experiences, Karen said: "Though the last four years have been the most challenging, stressful, painful and emotional, they have also been the most rewarding. I have met many inspirational people and have made many lifelong friendships."
Robert Gordon University
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