Hope Sutherland's academic success is bittersweet.
The Auckland teenager took a year off school to nurse her gravely ill mother, and on her return last year she spent much of her time studying for the Cambridge International Exams at Dawn Sutherland's hospital bedside.
Just as the 18-year-old ACG Parnell student returned from interviews at Oxford University her mother was moved to hospice for palliative care after a three-year battle with myeloma cancer.
Mrs Sutherland, 44, died last week, days before her daughter would find out she scored three coveted A* grades in the exams, gaining entrance to the prestigious university.
Hope, who has been the main caregiver for her mother since the blood cancer was diagnosed, was able to tell Mrs Sutherland before her death that Oxford accepted her application, on the condition she gain three A* grades.
An A* grade is given for exam scores of 90 per cent or more - which Hope achieved in literature, graphic design and design and technology.
She didn't get the chance to confirm the news before Mrs Sutherland succumbed to her disease last Monday.
Instead of crumbling at the loss of her "best friend and flatmate", Hope is determined to fulfil her mother's love of the English language and pursue a passion for literature.
"She dropped out of school at 15, but she was one of the most well-read people I know. She didn't go to university, it was all self-study."
Dawn Sutherland when she was a young woman. Photo / Supplied
Mrs Sutherland - who grew up in East London and was in a wheelchair during the last stages of her life - home-schooled her daughter and son James, now 15, and instilled in Hope an interest in teaching.
She said her mother's strength led to her own resolve to keep going, despite the tragedy unfolding at home.
"I've had to look after her and then get up and go to school and pretend that I am normal. It is hard but life continues."
Mrs Sutherland was confident her daughter would excel and had planned to study alongside Hope if she had beaten the cancer.
ACG Parnell principal Larne Edmeades called Hope an exceptional young woman and an outstanding scholar.
"Her humility, unwavering determination and kindness has shone through even in the midst of such tremendous sadness."
He said her choice to care for her mother set a compelling example to others.
ACG chief operating officer Clarence van der Wel said Hope's results were remarkable in the face of "such incredibly heartbreaking family news".
"It's a wonderful achievement to get three A* grades and this puts her in the top students in the country."
Hope did not apply for a scholarship to Oxford for her English Literature degree but has a trust fund to pay for the fees which are upwards of $40,000 per year. The Oxford year begins in October, before which Hope will travel to Israel to learn more about the country.
In the meantime, she has two jobs, including one helping students get into top overseas universities, and will complete two summer papers at the University of Auckland.