Finally, it was May 18, 2004, the day of my ophthalmologist appointment. I was relieved someone with authority would be looking at my eye. I did a little research and it seemed like I might have cataracts, glaucoma, or an infection. I would normally take my own car but since I would be getting drops in my eyes to dilate my pupils, my fiancé Gary drove me to my appointment. When we arrived at the medical centre, we took the elevator to the fourth floor, walked down a long hallway, and into Dr. Purdy’s empty waiting room. Gary took a seat while I checked in with the receptionist. l was immediately taken into an examination room and after a couple of minutes, Dr. Purdy came in. He put drops into both of my eyes and then ran a variety of tests. When the tests were finished, Dr. Purdy asked me if I had experienced any type of head trauma-had I been hit in the head with a baseball or anything? I was surprised by his questions; they made me wonder what he saw in my eye… I said I hadn’t.
“Can you go to Toronto?” he asked.
It was the last thing l was expecting him to say, and l didn’t know how to answer him. I wasn’t sure if Gary and I could afford to go. What about Matt (my son), our pets, and my job? I’d have to discuss it with Gary. All I could muster as a response was, “Why?” Dr. Purdy had his back to me and was writing something in my chart. Without looking up, the Toronto Specialist said, “You have a mass in your eye.” His words echoed in my ears. I was in shock. Dr. Purdy told me the mass was creating an excessive amount of pressure, causing glaucoma and causing my retina to detach. This explained my cloudy vision. He went on to tell me about the specialists at the Ocular Oncology Clinic at the Princess Margaret Hospital. At that point my fear reached its peak. I started panicking; nothing he was saying made sense. I had to find Gary and tell him what was happening.
As I walked hurriedly toward the waiting room, my mind was racing. I thought, This can’t be happening, I thought it was just an infection. A mass in my eye? Is that the same thing as a tumour? He wants me to go to Toronto. It must be serious; what if it’s cancer? Can you even get cancer in your eye and, if so, how do they treat it? I can’t believe I have to tell my fiancé this news, it’s going to break his heart. I rounded the corner to be faced with an empty waiting room; I was surprised and disappointed Gary had left. Then it hit me: I had been in the examination room for almost an hour and Gary had to pick up Matt from school. We had made the arrangement before my appointment, but it had completely slipped my mind. I was grateful Gary was picking up Matt but, at that moment, I felt terrified and alone.
“If you have what I think you have, you may only have six months to live,” he said with a serious look on his face. I was in shock. What was he was saying? I felt fine and could not imagine for a moment I could die within six months. The doctor said he was quite certain I had iris melanoma, an extremely rare, highly lethal form of eye cancer that grows around the iris. Once it has grown all the way around the iris, it quickly spreads to the liver and throughout the body. My best chance for survival-if the cancer had not yet spread-was to remove my eye.
My experience with eye cancer, which includes testing and diagnosis, eye removal surgery, the recovery period, my prosthetic eye fitting, adjusting to single-eye vision, the complications, a second corrective surgery, and a second recovery period.
Since her iris melanoma diagnosis, Cindy has been focusing on her health, finishing her book, and creating her business – Nightingale Creations. Her company was born out of necessity when she lost her eye to cancer and found herself in need of an eyepatch. When she wasn’t able to find anything she liked, she designed a fashionable and comfortable eyepatch that fits onto the wearer’s glasses. Cindy has created options for adults, children, and those needing a custom size, or wanting a unique look. Cindy lives in Hanwell, New Brunswick, Canada with her husband, Gary, and two German shepherds named Rio and Riley, Matt is working full-time and has moved out but visits as often as he can. To learn more about iris melanoma visit https://www.melanomanetwork.ca/uvealabout/ . If you would like more information about the Nightingale Creations eye patch or if you’d like to read more about Cindy’s story in her new book “The View From My Window: A Personal Account From an Eye Cancer Survivor” please visit http://www.nightingalecreations.ca/