Mum-of-five who helped son fight brain cancer graduates with first class degree
- Credit: UEL
As a single mum to five children, studying for a university degree was never going to be easy.
But for Rita Edokpayi, who is graduating from the University of East London with a first class degree, the challenge was made even harder when her four-year-old son was diagnosed with brain cancer.
The 48-year-old’s journey to passing her course been a long one - but one she hopes will inspire others.
Growing up in Nigeria, she was not encouraged to get an education. She married in her early 20s and had two children, moving to Italy a few years later with the help of a cousin when her husband died.
Whilst there she remarried and had three more children, and in 2011 the family moved to Dagenham.
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When the time came to enrol her youngest children, twins Joshua and Jesse, into nursery school, Rita said she “couldn’t let them go” and decided to do a childcare qualification.
She did so well that in 2013 she decided to enrol in UEL’s New Beginnings programme that allows students with non-traditional backgrounds to progress to a degree.
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But two months in, Joshua was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour. Rita dropped out of the course and in January 2014, she and Joshua moved to Oklahoma for three months so he could receive proton beam therapy.
Once home, Rita sought to return to university and joined UEL’s early childhood education programme in September 2014 - but the following January, Joshua’s cancer returned.
Rita, who is also an ordained minister and youth pastor at House of Favour Church in Forest Hill, south London, admitted she would likely have dropped out of her course had she not enjoyed it so much. She would often take her books to the hospital and study while Joshua was healing.
“The situation with my son actually helped me with my education,” she said.
“That was the only way I could get myself distracted from what was happening around me.
“Coming to uni was something that gave me joy. Uni, for me, at that time, was a place that I could feel useful apart from the church.”
Rita has now embarked on a master’s degree at UEL in special educational needs, while Joshua, called a “miracle” by his mum, is now a happy and healthy eight-year-old doing well at school.