This week is Carers Week, running from 11-17 June. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by those responsible for caring for dependents. Some members of St George’s student body have caring responsibilities including James Westwick-Paine, who cared for his terminally-ill mother while studying here.

James Carers Week Cropped

calendar-icon 12 June 2018

James graduated from St George’s in 2017 and is now a doctor at Kent and Canterbury Hospital. Here he reflects on his experiences.

James’ mum was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was 15. After beating her initial diagnosis through trying circumstances, the cancer subsequently returned.

James explains, “Going through caring responsibilities and caring for mum was one of the hardest but most positive times of my life.”

“On my 21st birthday I took a phone call from mum saying that she had fallen and broken her arm. That weekend, she was told that the cancer had returned essentially everywhere.”

“I was at medical school in my second year. We knew things were going to be hard but didn't realise quite the route things would take. She was given six months to live, so I carried on with medical school for half a year. It became obvious mum’s health was failing, so I decided to take an interruption of study which was all sorted out by the university.”

“I thought mum was going to pass away that year but she didn’t. So I came back, finished the year and started my BSc. It was now getting to a point where mum was almost entirely housebound and couldn’t leave without my help. After a year, she was completely bed-bound. I was looking after mum and travelling 60 miles to St George’s every day.

“It was all so exhausting. I was half-way through my BSc and realised it wasn’t fair on myself, my mum or the university to carry on. I asked for the rest of the year off because I expected mum to pass away and that I would be back for T Year which the university happily agreed to. Over the year, mum didn’t pass away but did get much worse. The cancer had basically spread to all her bones and she was in a great deal of pain. I would get the neighbours to check on mum during the day and then would come back home during the evening to get her comfortable for bed, spend time with her. I did this during T, P and F Year.”

“Mum passed away in my arms on the 8th of September 2017. By that stage, I had found out I was going to be a doctor and my girlfriend Nikki was going to be a midwife.”

“Caring for mum was one of the hardest but most positive times of my life.”

Despite recently graduating from St George’s, James remains a member of SPACE (Student Parents and Carers Empowered), a student welfare group overseen by the Students’ Union. The group hosts regular meetings, as well as child-friendly events throughout the year.

In addition to SPACE, parents and carers are eligible for support from the university.

Student Finance Advisor, Helen Williams, explains, “Student parents and carers are a priority group for the Access to Learning Fund (ALF). This means that we fast-track their assessment wherever possible and student parents/carers who are eligible for an ALF award receive 80% of the assessed additional need instead of the usual 70%.

“I meet with all ALF applicants when they submit their application form so it’s a good opportunity for me to have a chat with them about their circumstances and to identify whether there are any other support needs such as Accommodation & Welfare Advice, University of London Housing Services, counselling, external debt advice charities.”

For the full range of support services provided by St George’s, please visit our website.