Nursing personal tragedy into an inspiring career

Liza Preston, from Stawell, near Bridgwater in Somerset, is a first-year student studying at the University of Plymouth’s Exeter School of Nursing. Recalling her career path to date and the tragedy that shaped it, she explains why becoming a student nurse was one of the best decisions she made.

I want to leave an impression on people’s lives the way the nurses who nursed my family did for me

I cared for my mum, dad and grandmother in their final days, and met some incredible nurses along the way. 
While changing career was a risk, COVID-19 made me evaluate my work and it was certainly the push I needed.

<p>Liza-Marie Preston</p>

My first work experience was in a nursing home, making cups of tea, playing games and chatting with the residents. When I left school, I became a carer in a nursing home. I got so much satisfaction from caring for people. 

My friends would ask how I could do stomach certain aspects of personal care, but I would explain that it was so much more than that; it was about looking after a person when they could no longer look after themselves, listening to their stories, respecting their dignity and providing them with care in the way that I would want my family to be cared for. Caring for the elderly is a privilege.

After having children, I struggled to balance work and family and struggled with my mental health. 

I hated being away from my children and mum guilt had really kicked in, so I got a job that worked around my family. 

I trained in beauty therapy and ran a successful beauty business for 17 years, even becoming a nail technician for a few celebrities, I thought I’d made it.

<p>Liza-Marie Preston photo</p>

Personal tragedy

In 2016, my life changed forever.

My mum was 55 and had fibromyalgia. In February 2016, she was admitted to hospital with a suspected pulmonary embolism, however, they did not find anything and she was given a fibromyalgia-related diagnosis. 

In April 2016, she deteriorated rapidly, which continued for six weeks before her doctor finally referred her for an ultrasound scan. She then had a CT scan and was diagnosed with bowel and secondary liver cancer with an estimated life expectancy of months, perhaps a year. Two weeks later, she died.

My grief presented itself as anger. I have heard similar instances where fibromyalgia has been the fallback diagnosis, and I want to change this for others with fibromyalgia.

That said, the care my mum received from the Macmillan nurses and the hospice staff was incredible and I will always remember them. They allowed me to help provide end-of-life care for my mum, and as devastating and as life-changing as it was, it was an honour to be part of the last few moments of someone’s life, especially my mum’s.

Little did I know that I would be doing the same for my 59-year-old dad the following year, who was diagnosed with stomach cancer, and for my grandmother the following year. I helped nurse each of them in their final weeks. 

My 80-year-old stepdad was devastated after my mum’s death, he had vascular dementia. Every day I would visit him, cook for him, take him shopping and keep him company. 

After a while he decided to move closer to me. He managed there for a short time but when his condition deteriorated, he moved in with me and my family where I cared for him. This was tough. I was running my business from home, I had a four-year-old and two older girls, but I was determined I was going to do this, for him and my mum.

He became very poorly and was admitted to hospital, it was there that the decision was made to rehome him in a dementia specialist home. I visited every day, again keeping him company, playing games to keep his mind active, walking in the garden and just spending quality time together. After 18 months of living in the nursing home, he passed away in 2019 with me by his side. 

<p>Liza-Marie Preston (right) with her mum and step-dad</p>

Career change

COVID-19 wasn’t the reason I wanted a change of career, but it was certainly the push I needed.

The pandemic hit, and, like so many others, I was forced to close my business and re-evaluate life. So, I decided to pursue my nursing career, inspired by the nurses I had encountered in the past few tragic years. I enrolled in an access course which I completed successfully and here I am, approaching 40 years old, over halfway through my first year as a student nurse.

I have loved the programme so far; I have made some amazing new friends and have been inspired by some incredible people who I aspire to emulate.
If there is anyone out there wondering if it’s worth taking the risk with a career change, particularly into one that seems so challenging, I’d say it definitely is.

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