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Joanne Aug 21

Joanne, 53, recovers from tennis-ball sized brain tumour to secure University Centre place

We are throwing the spotlight on some of the inspirational stories behind our 2022/23 REACH and Construction Award winners this summer with JOANNE GARNETT next up.

Jo was the winner of our Most Determined Adult Student REACH Award. She has secured a place on our University Centre 3D Creative Practice degree course at the age of 53 despite having had to put her access studies on hold following the discovery of a tennis-ball sized brain tumour. Jo is also the sole carer for her autistic teenage son. Keep reading to learn more about her inspiring journey…

What made you decide to enrol on our Access to Higher Education Art and Design course?

My desire has always been to create 3D pieces, from masks to armour, which I've done to satisfy my son’s desires and, on occasion, my own and I’ve loved every minute of the process.

What education qualifications did you have before starting the course?

I left school at 16 with GCEs in English Lit, History, Social Studies, RE, Maths, English, Art and Design and Biology; O Levels in English Language and Art; and RSA II Typewriting.

What jobs have you had previously?

I've done various jobs. My early working life was office work until I had my son and then I've done cleaning work and been a carer.

I previously did fashion design at York College when I first left school but, if I'm honest, I didn't apply myself to that course and left after a year. It was not at all the College’s fault; it was totally mine, but I vowed to return one day and, when I did, I loved it.

As an adult learner in what ways is York College & University Centre a welcoming place?

The College was welcoming, as was my tutor, and I was at ease studying even though the access course could be considered to be a little intense.

You have an autistic teenage son and travel in from Easingwold too – what challenges does that present and how has College helped in that respect?

I have been my son’s one-and-only carer from birth up until now. Some events have taken place to definitely test my ability and, although he is the most important person in my life and I wouldn't change him for the world, studying at York College has provided me with another purpose and desire.

Explain what made you first think you might have a health issue and how that started impacting on your College work?

I've suffered from occasional migraines all my life but then I began to suffer from dizzy spells and balance issues. I purchased a trolly to carry my supplies into College so that the extra weight wouldn't interfere with my balance but, even then, I would walk down the College corridors waving from side to side.

I would sometimes spend days just vomiting and being unable to get out of bed. At the time, we were on lockdown due to Covid-19 and had meetings on Skype but, sometimes, I couldn't even attend those.

When we did come into College I was taking pain relief like they were sweets and sometimes struggled to apply myself.

In what ways have College been supportive after you were diagnosed with a brain tumour?

When I found out I had a brain tumour, there wasn't much College could do at that point. I had to end my studies there and then and I couldn't plan for the future as there were various side effects I could suffer due to the surgery but, once I returned, they were supportive as I wasn't fully recovered and there are a couple of disabilities I have now.

They’re not too severe, but I get double vision if I look right or down and I have a complete loss of hearing in one ear.

It seems such an inadequate question but how did you respond to the news that you had a tumour the size of a tennis ball?

It’s a little difficult to remember my reaction to being diagnosed as I think I was thinking very matter of fact. If I didn't get it removed, I would die and knew that my son needed me.

Obviously, I was scared but I did ask my surgeon, "What are my chances?" and he replied, "Nine out of 10". I had no choice and I had to trust them.

Did you take a break from your studies and how long for?

I ended my studies in March 2020 and began again in September 2022.

What impact did the tumour have on your health, what treatment have you had to undergo and how are you now?

I now suffer the occasional headache, but nothing like my previous ones. As previously stated, my peripheral vision has been damaged but, on a recent visit to the eye clinic for a check-up, I was told that I was doing really well and, looking straight ahead, I have 20/20 vision.

My balance is not perfect, but I am not yet fully healed. The healing process for this can be quite a long time but each day is a small improvement.

They had to break my jaw on my left side to get to the tumour in the second op and then repair my skull and jaw with metal plates, so I will definitely bleep going through airport security. I also have no feeling at all in my left eye or the left side of my face.

Were you always determined to go back to your studies?

I had two 12-hour surgeries and, if my surgeons had to work that length of time to give me my life back, I was determined not to be a victim. So, as soon as I felt I was able, I wanted to return to my studies and complete what I started.

What stage are you at now with the Access to Higher Education course?

I have now finished my access course and have been accepted to begin the 3D Creative Practice degree course in September which I am so looking forward to.

What are you hoping it will lead to?

I have always been interested in masks and armour as previously stated and, maybe, I could use those skills in film or theatre but my future course may possibly take me in a different direction.

How did it feel to win the Most Determined Student REACH Award?

Just being nominated for the REACH Award made me a little bit tearful to be honest. In my head, anyone in my situation would have tried to get their life back as much as they could, but then winning the Most Determined Student Award, although quite overwhelming, has given me an even greater push to succeed and be extremely grateful for the acknowledgement.

Thank you for sharing your inspirational story with us, Jo, and best of luck with your degree studies.