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Inspirational young mum of four graduates despite losing husband to cancer

Sandra Isirima will graduate virtually today (Tuesday 28 July) with a Master’s degree (MSc) in Leadership for Sustainable Development from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast.

Sandra, originally from Nigeria, lives in Belfast with her four young boys Mike (six), Micah (four) and twin boys Mitchy and Myron (two). Sandra began her Master’s degree at Queen’s in September 2018, however in December 2018, her husband Michael became very sick and was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer at the age of 34. Michael was just about to finish his PhD when he got the diagnosis and was given just a few weeks to months to live. Sadly, Michael passed away on 22 November 2019.

Remembering Michael, Sandra said: “Michael was a great dad to the boys. He loved his kids so much that his last wish was to spend the rest of his days with the boys. Even during his pain, he tried to keep a smiling face around them.

“Michael was so hardworking and industrious. He was diagnosed with cancer in his final year of his PhD, but he never gave up on his dreams. He was so brave, he worked on his PhD even on his sick bed. I and the kids picked up his degree on his behalf as he was awarded posthumously by Ulster University.  His research was on fire safety engineering and Michael also volunteered with Fire NI during his PhD.”

Despite this devastating time in her life, Sandra kept going, wanting to give her sons a future that they can be proud of. She said: “I became a widow at the age of 27 with four young boys under the age of six. I felt like giving up everything.  Then I remembered Michael’s wishes and after taking a good look at my boys, knowing I am their only surviving parent, all I wanted was to give them a better future.

"Michael was so encouraging and supportive of me that he asked me to never give up on my dreams of getting my Master’s. He supported me in the little ways he could and always encouraged me not to drop out of school because of his illness. I found courage, hope and strength, and I finally decided to go back to school to complete my Master’s degree.”

To help her through this tough time, Sandra found strength and support from her tutors from the School of Biological Sciences.  Speaking about her time at Queen’s, Sandra said: “Queen’s was so supportive of me during Michael’s illness, if I couldn’t meet a deadline because of what I was going through, they would give me a new one.  My course coordinator kept in touch with me and made sure I was okay.

“The thought of knowing I belonged to a community as supportive as Queen’s kept me going and gave me hope for the future. My course supervisor Dr Jude Stephens was so amazing and some of my course mates were present at my late husband’s memorial service to support me and my family in my darkest time. I am glad I have a family at Queen’s who cares about my welfare.”

Sandra will be working during her virtual graduation ceremony but plans to stream the event later in the evening, order some takeaway and celebrate her amazing achievement with her four boys.  Following her graduation, Sandra will start her new job with Concentrix.

Looking to the future, she said: “I am so excited to start my new job. After my graduation, I will focus on building my career, being a great mum and trying my best to give my kids the best in life. I plan to grow in my career and excel greatly. We hope for a better and brighter future.”


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