Edinburgh GP Jane Burnett pursued her goal of writing creatively and finally feels able to call herself a writer after completing a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from The Open University (OU) in Scotland whilst undergoing treatment for cancer.
It was while working in the health service during the COVID-19 pandemic that Jane (47) decided to pursue creative writing again, something she’d mainly done in private throughout her life.
“Like many people, especially those working in healthcare, my life was upended by the pandemic. It made me think about goals that I’d let get dusty but hadn’t quite given up on,” she says.
“Not doing something with my writing was a bit of a regret, my dustiest goal. I wasn’t sure how to take things forward and studying seemed a good next step – to learn from others and learn what I was capable of.”
The OU had a long history and excellent track record of distance and online learning – that long predated the pandemic."
While occasionally entering writing competitions or creating poems for her family and friends, Jane says: “Largely I had kept my words, and any daydreams of taking my writing further, to myself.”
To balance work and family commitments, she applied for her OU Masters in Creative Writing knowing “the OU had a long history and excellent track record of distance and online learning – that long predated the pandemic”.
Studying alongside people from all walks of life also appealed.
However, Jane faced a major hurdle towards the end of her studies when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She shares: “Suddenly my days were filled with hospital appointments, and each seemed to bring bad news (stage 1 to 2 to 3). I quickly got a surgery date, and it was the week before my Open University course’s End of Module Assessment (EMA) was due.
I decided that I couldn't just give up – I had too much hard work under my belt."
“After the initial shock of diagnosis, when I just wanted to run away and thought there was no chance I would complete my Masters, I decided that I couldn't just give up – I had too much hard work under my belt.
“I knew that more difficult days were coming, and I didn't want to add to those with regret at having pulled out.”
Jane’s tutor was fully supportive and compassionate about her situation. Referred to the OU Student Support Team, Jane was delighted there were multiple options to complete her degree. She submitted her final EMA the day before surgery and was supported by the university to submit special circumstances, taking her diagnosis and surgery into account when reviewing her final assessment.
“I found out my results on the day of my first chemotherapy treatment,” she reveals.
"The email came through whilst I was sitting in the chemo unit, having the second drug of the day infused. Over the months of chemo, through treatments and hospital admissions for complications, knowing that I had passed was incredibly important and helped keep me going.”
After all her hard work, Jane ended up being awarded a degree with distinction and subsequently attended an OU degree ceremony at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
She says: “I'm very grateful to my tutor and to student support services for the help they gave me.
“I graduated 2022 not only as a cancer patient, but also as a writer with an MA in Creative Writing…I feel immense gratitude to everyone that helped me get here, including my family and friends.”
Jane writes daily, and also signs up for writers’ retreats and sometimes joins a co-working space. She has two projects on the go: her first novel, started during her studies, and a memoir about her experiences as a patient.
I graduated 2022 not only as a cancer patient, but also as a writer with an MA in Creative Writing."
She reflects: “My studies have been very important in developing myself as a writer. I found new writers to inspire me, many suggested by my tutor. I had freedom and space to experiment – finding out what worked with my voice.”
Jane urges others thinking of creative writing with the OU: “Go for it!
“You’ll find a place for your words. It might be tough at times, but it will be worth it.
“I feel that finally I can call myself a writer."
Photo by Kathryn Tuckerman