News & Press

#EyeGetDilated: Deborah Smith

Guest blog post by OM survivor and #EyeGetDilated advocate, Deborah Smith:

I am Deborah Smith from Georgia and I have a Class II choroidal melanoma tumor. My walk with cancer has been quite a journey so far. I went to my ophthalmologist complaining of high sensitivity to light in September 2012. After my eyes were dilated my doctor asked me if I had high blood pressure and if I took medicine for it. My reply – yes and yes!  He said it looked like there was a constricted blood vessel in the back of my eye; he thought it was blood pressure related and to continue taking my blood pressure medicine. Not quite what I expected!

After several months, floaters developed in my right eye and I would see them 24/7, even in my sleep. A couple of months went by and my vision started deteriorating drastically. Two months later the floaters switched direction and went from jagged shards to pretty oblong circles. I thought I could only go to the eye doctor once a year and there had to be one year and one day in between visits. I called my insurance company and they said I could go in if I had a problem and it wasn't just a regular eye checkup. On August 29, 2013 my eye doctor said I had a detached retina and he made an appointment for the next morning for surgery at 8 am. He said to have someone drive me there and not to eat anything. I told him I couldn't have surgery because we were leaving in 1 1/2 weeks for a Baltic Sea cruise. He said "You can't go – You cannot fly! If your retina tears from your macula you will be permanently blind and surgery cannot reverse it." Not quite what I wanted to hear!

The next morning, we arrived early at the retina specialist and she said that before the surgery she was going to run a few tests to verify what the referring doctor diagnosed. I can remember going in for each test and looking at the face of each person performing the tests. I can remember a horrible feeling after each test and going out to the waiting room where my good friend Julie and my son Michael were waiting. Tears were streaming down my face. They asked me about each test and Julie said she was praying for me and she was sure this was just protocol and that there wasn't anything to worry about. Michael put his arm around me, trying to comfort me. After the tests she pulled all 3 of us in a big office. She said I did have a detached retina but that wasn't my only problem. She proceeded to tell me I had a mass in my eye and she needed to refer me to 1 of 3 doctors in the US. I asked her what exactly was the mass and she said it looked to be a highly suspicious melanoma tumor and she would refer me to someone to verify the diagnosis. I'm glad I had two other people with me because I don't think I heard anything else the rest of the appointment. I do remember she was very gentle and kind in everything she explained. She told me the hospital locations and I responded with Emory since it was the closest of the 3 to my home. The rest of the day wasn't what I expected at all!

September 6th, 2013 answered a lot of questions and changed my life, literally in the blink of an eye! More tests – more tears. My friend Julie was with me since my husband and son were out of town. We were there all day and I learned that I had two options: enucleation or try to save my eye. He said our goals were to save my life, save my eye and save my vision and there were no guarantees!  We asked all sorts of questions. Different methods of treatment were explained and I was offered a second opinion if I wanted one. He also said I could go on the cruise and surgery would be scheduled when we got back.

When we got back new measurements were taken and a new plaque had to be made. My tumor was 7.9mm X 19mm X 19.1mm. Next came the flood of emotions. Why me, God? Shock, disbelief, denial, confusion, guilt, loneliness, feeling overwhelmed, upset, sad, angry, sleepless nights, fear, scared to death, depression, streams of tears, and finally, why not me, God! My family was going through the same emotions I was but my family and friends were standing behind me with this rare cancer diagnosis. I had two surgeries: the first on October 9th to put the plaque on, and then on October 16th to take the plaque off. I slept the first week away. The following weeks were spent trying to recover mentally and physically. It took a while to come to the conclusion that this was a second opportunity in life! Time to get busy living. I started setting small goals and taking life day by day. My new goals were getting well, learning to drive again, returning to work, and living long enough to meet my grandchildren. God is great!

I just celebrated my 4 year Cancerversary! You learn to find a new normal in life. I have testing every 6 months on my eye and tests for metastasis every 3 months. Scanxiety is real! I am patiently awaiting the hopeful result of NED (No Evidence of Disease). I retired in March and met not one but two grandsons, Remington and Landon, in April and May. Life is good! Not every day is perfect but I am getting up every day thanking God for another day! 

Ocular melanoma is a rare cancer that happens to 6 people out of a million. Cancer doesn't discriminate! Melanoma doesn't come in just the form of skin cancer – it can also be a tumor in the eye. Everyone should get a dilated eye exam each year. I believe I am still here to educate people about ocular melanoma and to spread the word that if you feel you need a second opinion, don't be afraid to do so. No matter what the health issue is!