Without the continued support of her lecturers and fellow students, Yasmine Haq says she may never have graduated from her Pharmacy degree this summer.

The last 18 months have been a rollercoaster of emotion for Yasmine after her mum Denise was diagnosed with cancer and lost her battle just weeks before the 24-year-old graduated from our University.

Caring for her mum took its toll on Yasmine as she continued her studies and prepared for exams. However, she says: “The lecturers were amazing, they were so kind and understanding and gave me so much support every step of the way. The life-long friends I made on the course were always there for me too, whether it was taking down notes or just updating me on what was happening I never felt alone and can’t thank them all enough for getting me through one of the most difficult times of my life.”

She added: “I didn’t want mum to give up fighting cancer, so I couldn’t give up either, even though there were days when I just thought I couldn’t carry on. She was so frightened at times and I knew I had to get the job done for her. The morning before she died I was sat in the hospice revising until 2am, by 10.30am she had passed away with me and my sister Nadia at her side, she was just 55 years old.”

Yasmine, from Spennymoor, County Durham, showed such resolve during the last months of her degree that lecturers nominated her for a graduation award – the Jemma O’Sullivan Award for Care and Compassion in the Practice of Pharmacy.

The award is presented each year to a graduate who has demonstrated these qualities during their degree course. Jemma O’ Sullivan was just 22 when she was killed in a motorway crash in 2010. To mark a lasting legacy for Jemma, her parents Vincent and Margaret, sponsor this special award each year.

“It means so much to be recognised by the university in this way. I don’t know how I would have coped without the support of my lecturers. I pushed myself and am proud to have walked away with a 2:2. My mum always wanted me to have my own career, and that’s why I kept going.”

Dr Adrian Moore, Head of School: Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Sunderland, said: “Yasmine fully deserves this award, she has been through so much over these last 18 months, coping with her mum’s cancer diagnosis.

“She showed incredible resilience, and we were all hugely impressed by her determination to complete her course while caring for her mum.

“Thanks must also go to our students on this course who are all very close knit and really supported Yasmine in the months leading up to graduation.”

Yasmine has now begun her pre-registration year as a community pharmacist at Eilbeck Deneside pharmacy in Seaham, working alongside her father Zia, who is also a pharmacist and a Sunderland graduate.

“It’s great to be working alongside my dad, he’s so proud of what I’ve achieved. He was happier about my results than I actually was. We have all been through so much together since mum’s diagnosis. I have had to do so much growing up.”

Also working part-time at the pharmacy is 21-year-old sister Nadia, studying pharmacy in Liverpool.

Yasmine says: “Pharmacy really runs through our family. My mam was a dispenser when she met my dad after they began working together all those years ago.”

However, Yasmine admits that her road to university wasn’t straight forward. Having performed poorly during her science-based A-levels, she says felt lost at the time and didn’t really know what she wanted from a career, so took a year out.

She worked for a year in the Stockton pharmacy branch of the company she’s currently based at in Seaham, gaining a host of practical skills and experience. She then successfully completed a Foundation Course at Sunderland College, which led to the Pharmacy MPharm degree at Sunderland.

She explains: “I learned quickly from my mistakes during my A-levels and that year out I wanted to prove myself. It also allowed me the time to know what I wanted to do. I didn’t enjoy failing and would not let it happen again. The Foundation Year also guided me easily into university.

“I hope all I have achieved is making a difference. Everyone knows someone close to them affected by cancer, I hope my story offers comfort and support to another family going through the same thing.”

She added: “My mum had never been ill in her life, but she started losing weight and suffered menopausal symptoms, then a minor procedure to her bowel picked up the rare form of liver cancer, she may have had a chance had it been picked up earlier. I would say to anyone showing similar symptoms to get themselves checked as early as possible.”

Jemma O’Sullivan Award

The Jemma O’Sullivan Award for Care and Compassion in the Practice of Pharmacy is presented each year to a graduate who has demonstrated these qualities during their degree course. Jemma O’ Sullivan was just 22 when she was killed in a motorway crash in 2010.

To mark a lasting legacy for Jemma, her parents Vincent and Margaret, sponsor this special award, presented during the graduation ceremonies at the Stadium of Light.

Yasmine was presented with a special glass gift as well as a cheque to support her future career. This is the fifth year that the award has been presented.

A large glass memorial, created at National Glass Centre, has also been permanently placed in the foyer of the University’s Sciences Complex. Recipients of the annual award have their names engraved onto a plaque that stands next to the memorial.

Jemma’s parents were very keen that the award didn’t necessarily reflect the top academic performance, but was about demonstrating the caring and compassionate qualities of a pharmacist. These were the qualities Jemma possessed; a friendly person who was easy to talk to.

Jemma’s father Vincent said: “Jemma was a bright and intelligent young woman who brought nothing but joy to everyone who had the pleasure of meeting her. We felt this project encapsulates her memory, allowing us in some way to continue her good work and preserve what she represented.”

Jemma, from Limerick in the Republic of Ireland, was a passenger in a Citroen Berlingo on the M8, near Warmsworth, Doncaster, in September 2010, when a lorry crashed into it. The driver, who was texting at the time, was jailed for five years after admitting causing death by dangerous driving.

Since her death her family and friends have raised more than £100,000 to support a hospice pharmacy in South Africa treating people with HIV/AIDS.

Her father Vincent said: “The year before she died, Jemma had volunteered at an HIV hospice crèche, where there were 300 children, 80 per cent had HIV/AIDS, next door to a hospice in Pretoria; she had an incredible experience there and learned to listen and talk to patients, that was her great strength.”

“We decided to support the Leratong Hospice in Jemma’s memory, raising £100k, and renovated the pharmacy, stocking it with drugs for the next four years. It’s officially been called ‘Jemma’s Pharmacy’, there’s a lovely plaque at the site.”

He added: “We were also supported by South Yorkshire Police in an initiative called Jemma Bear.

“Some 500 teddy bears have been produced in memory of Jemma and will be used by police family liaison officers across South Yorkshire to comfort children involved in collisions on the roads.

“After discussion with South Yorkshire Police, we felt a toy bear may be a comfort and a perhaps a distraction to children trying to deal with shock or possible grief.”