Julie Gilmore, from Southern River, fitted her university studies around caring for her son Mitchell, who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), the most severe and debilitating form of muscular dystrophy diagnosed in early childhood.
She first enrolled at Murdoch four-and-a-half years ago, when her son’s care needs became so great, even working part-time became a challenge.
“I saw many advantages in returning to study, including the mental stimulation and a means to avoid the social isolation that befalls so many carers,” she said.
“And an unexpected benefit came in the greater understanding I gained into Mitchell’s condition.
“When I first started this course the underlying genetic cause of my son’s condition was foreign to me. What I have since learnt has brought me peace. Not only do I understand the condition better, I have an appreciation of the challenges faced by the researchers working to find a cure for DMD.”
The biggest hurdle Mrs Gilmore thought she would have to overcome studying full-time was managing the contact hours with her son’s care. However she was pleasantly surprised.
“The way the courses are set up helped me to fit everything in,” she said. “If I missed a lecture, I could catch up at home via Lectopia.
“Also, most of the teaching weeks coincided with Mitchell’s school terms – there were only a few days per year in which I had to make alternative arrangements for his care, or bring him onto campus.
“I also had some incredibly understanding lecturers and fellow students. They were really supportive of the commitments I had outside of university, which was fantastic.”
Although originally enrolled in a Bachelor of Forensic Biology and Toxicology, Mrs Gilmore changed her degree to a Bachelor of Science, with a double major in molecular biology and biomedical science.
It was a decision that would prove fortuitous for many reasons.
Shortly before her final exams in her third year, Mrs Gilmore noticed skin changes in her breast, and recalled studying a form of breast cancer that resembled her symptoms, which did not include a palpable lump.
Mammogram results showed a ductal carcinoma in-situ and before her final results were out, she was scheduled for a lumpectomy. The first six months of her honours year were then re-scheduled around radiation therapy and recovery.
But while most people would have given up at the first sign of difficulty, Mrs Gilmore said her experiences had helped her to cope with the ups and downs of university life. “You realise that there are always things that are beyond your control, and you’ve just got to get on with it as best you can!” She said.
Julie received first class honours for her thesis – an achievement she largely attributes to the learning environment at the university.
And she’s not stopping now that she has her honours. Mrs Gilmore has just begun studying for a PhD in neuroscience at Murdoch and is looking forward to feeding her passion for research with hard work.
“My results to date are a testament to how fantastic the support is at Murdoch,” she said. “The flexible approach to studying has helped me to achieve my goals and given me new ones.”