What, is She Going to Die?

Mrs. ItchyFeet in 2005

Yeah, I had eye cancer when I was 27. It’s a pretty crazy story! The hubby and I wanted to do more camping and I wanted to see stars without digging for my glasses so I went in for a routine eye exam to see if I was a good candidate for LASIK. The optometrist had just gotten this really cool analyzer that let him check for damage to my retinas without dilating my eyes. It was so new that it wasn’t covered by insurance yet but I was in. $30 extra to avoid having my eyes dilated. Yes, please!

The machine kept coming up with some weird bubble in my right eye. He kept trying different angles but the bubble just wouldn’t go away. He ended up dilating my eyes anyway. It was worth a try. He said he would do more research about that bubble and let me know.

Why so serious?

The optometrist called me at work and said I had to go to a retinal specialist, immediately, because it could be my retina detaching and I might lose my eyesight. A bit freaky but still not too worried. I was sure it was his newfangled machine being wonky. I made the appointment and invited Mr. ItchyFeet.

The Retinal Specialist dilated my eyes, took a quick look, and called Mr. ItchyFeet into the exam room all somber-like. Mr. ItchyFeet noticed the serious look, and tried to break the tension. Awkwardly, as usual. “What, is she going to die!?!”

I giggled but the specialist did not think it was funny. Clearly no sense of humor, that man. It was cancer… the bad kind. I had a malignant melanoma in my right eye. Very rare and usually very hard to spot. He sent us on to an Ocular Oncologist. Now I was starting to worry.

Ocular Oncologists are a very rare specialty so we were lucky there was one at the same hospital where I had just started working! A very good one. He said we could take out the eye or try this new radiation therapy (which he had recently completed a mortality risk study on, first author…) that may or may not work. The chances of getting full-blown death cancer was the same for either option (see above regarding study). If the radiation didn’t work, he would just take out the eye. I had grown rather fond of both my eyes over the years so I decided to give the radiation option a try.

Warning! Graphic! 

The operation was ridiculous! The surgeon partially removed my right eye and cut the muscle that was on the same side as the cancerous tumor (they looped a suture to the loose muscle so it wouldn’t get lost in the socket, and could be easily located and attached later). They then took a flashlight, shown it through my eye to see the dark outline of my tumor, and used a sharpie to draw a circle around the shadow onto my eyeball. How crazy is that!

© 2018, Alberta Health Services, CancerControl Alberta, Treatment of Uveal Melanoma

Now that they knew where the tumor was, they sowed on a kind of gold bottle cap that contained these radiation beads (radioactive plaque). The radiation would kill the tumor (and, eventually, my corneal lens but what ya gonna do?) They put my eye with the attached bottle cap back into my face, gave me a lead patch to keep my caretakers safe, and sent me home for four days.

Mr. ItchyFeet and my mum (who flew up from Colorado to help) took really good care of me for four drug filled days while the radiation worked its deadly magic on my eye tumor. Killing the cancerous cells while mostly sparing the good cells. Friends and coworkers set me up with a bunch of pirate garb so I could decorate my eyepatch in style! Mr. ItchyFeet was working on final exams for college and taking care of me so this was not a good time for him (literally studying for senior year finals and it was his birthday!). The painkillers gave me constipation, so I wasn’t that happy either. I’m pretty fond of pooping.

Once the four days were up, it was back into the operating room. They removed my eye again to take off the radiation bottle-cap and reattach that muscle that they had cut in the first surgery. Then they put my eye back into my face and gave me a ridiculous cocktail of drugs for my overnight stay at the hospital. Mr. ItchyFeet had a final exam the next day but he stayed by my side all night. He tried to study but it was hard as I was hallucinating all kinds of weird things. Those drugs are no joke! People came and went and I’m not sure how many were real or imagined! Crazy times!

Now to worry about all these coconuts!

The radiation worked and I got to keep my eye! I still have it after all these years! The corneal lens died from the radiation so I had to have cataract surgery (but with LASIK done on the other eye I no longer need glasses so… mission accomplished!). I go in for regular eye ultrasounds (with the goopy gel and everything) and they will remove my eye if the dead tumor starts to change at all. I have US insurance (thank you ACA!) so I’ll probably travel back to the states for these.

Not everyone made it. One of my former coworkers was diagnosed with the same type of cancer (only on his forehead) just before me and he died six months later. My father-in-law’s friend got the exact same eye cancer (and was treated by the same Ocular Oncologist) around the same time as me, but he only lived a few more years after his diagnosis. Both were great guys and we were sad to see them go.

Dying is scary, but so is living. I’m really just worried about falling coconuts. Do you know how many of those kill people every year!?! Too many. People are all afraid of sharks but it’s actually coconuts you should be worried about. They just fall out of the tree onto your noggin and poof(!) you are dead! Keeping these human bags of meat alive takes some real effort. No dying!

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  1. I totally remember the pirate eye patch! Leave it to you to take something serious and make it fun. ❤️

  2. So glad you survived, favorite daughter! And watch out for those coconuts down there!

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