“ I almost feel abandoned now that my appointments are few and far between. It feels like trying to ride a bike without stabilisers for the first time, without instructions. The anxiety and fear around this will never leave me, but I hope in time it’s easier to cope with”
Jolene Dyke is 32. There are still cultural expectations heaped on women of this age – conformist question marks, spoken or unspoken, about whether kids, marriage and a mortgage are on the agenda – but I don’t think anyone meeting or speaking to Jo would guess at what she has been through over the past 12 years.
Jo has been in cancer treatment since she was 18, and her life has been starkly removed from what is still largely perceived as the ‘normal’ progression of a woman’s life in the western world. Instead of dating, socialising and considering life decisions, her new normal has consisted of major surgeries, secondary brain, bowel and lung tumour diagnoses, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, scan results, watching and waiting.
At 23, Jo was told her cancer had progressed to stage four and her life expectancy was just 18 months. But amazingly, today Jo has been cancer free for nine months, on a ‘watch and wait’ protocol. She says she would not be alive without progressive drug treatment for melanoma.
But contrary to what someone without a cancer diagnosis might think, it is not always simple to move on past a disease when it has been your life for your entire 20s. Nine months on from treatment she is in unchartered territory for a stage four patient, and even feels like a ‘stage four fraud’ at times. This thing called scanxiety is a plague in itself, and Jo must live with the watching and the waiting and the continual worry of what will come next.
How does someone process the mental and physical trauma of such an aggressive diagnosis and treatment programme when it might come back? Or shift their identity away from being a cancer patient?
I read Jo’s blog – Melanoma Jo – a while back and learning more about her cancer experience was eye-opening. In our conversation, Jo fills me in on what the past 12 years have been like, her mental health journey and what is truly on her mind. We talk about:
Jo’ diagnosis at 18, prior to leaving for university, and how the disease and treatment evolved throughout her 20s.
How having cancer affects personal relationships and the way friends and family communicate.
Living with scanxiety for 12 years.
What life is like now through the ‘watch and wait’ process.
Experiencing PTSD from the massive mental and physical trauma of cancer re-occurance and interventions.
The frustration and fear of missing out on making choices about relationships, marriage and having children due to a decade of cancer treatment.
Which therapies have helped Jo accept an unexpected path in life.
It’s hard for Jo to remember a time when cancer was not part of her life and she struggles with this, but listening to her story was surprisingly uplifting. As regardless of all of the above Jo IS moving forward and she has a full, rich life; a job she loves, travels, a fan base of family and good friends. She speaks incredibly honestly and articulately about what goes through her mind, and I am grateful to her for sharing it with us.
Wishing you many more years of healthy scans, Jo.
This is the final episode in series four, thanks for listening lovely people! Without you I would not still be putting these stories out there. I hope to be back in the autumn, pending funding and sponsorship. Watch this space.