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#EyeGetDilated: Each Day Together is Precious

Guest blog post by ocular melanoma survivor and advocate Sara Haven Rusch: 

I got lucky. In 2016 I was 8 months pregnant. I went to a routine eye exam in order to get a new supply of contacts. It was supposed to be simple and routine. I had no vision concerns. 

The optometry tech asked if I would consent to retinal imaging called Optomap and if so, there was a certain amount not covered by insurance (about forty dollars). I had just bought my first house, was about to have a baby and felt like I could not spend money on it so I declined. He let me know what the imaging could detect, and that it would be good to see changes over time. I figured I was young, healthy, no eye symptoms or concerns, so I saw no reason to do it. The eye exam went on and the tech asked me again for a third time if I was sure that I did not want the retinal imaging. I finally gave in due to his persistence. He took a bunch of images at an odd angle so I figured something was up. The optometrist said I had a detached retina or ocular melanoma. I remember waiting for hours and hours at the specialty clinic the next day. Finally, it was confirmed as ocular melanoma. 

I had never heard of ocular melanoma before this, nor did I know how deadly it is. I lost my father a few years earlier to pancreatic cancer and I work as a nurse treating oncology patients on clinical trials so I knew the realities of cancer. I had been married only a year, a new house, and a baby ready to be born. The day I was diagnosed my husband and I sobbed for a whole day. Our bright and promising future now seemed very uncertain. It was all so unexpected and without warning. 

My daughter, Adeline, was born at the end of July a couple weeks after my diagnosis. The plan was to establish bonding and breastfeeding and then have a radioactive plaque placed in my eye for 5 days at the end of September. For 5 days, I was isolated in my basement from my family focused on pumping to keep up my milk supply. It was very strange. I was able to hold my daughter again once the plaque was removed.   

I have known from the very beginning of my daughter’s life that each day together is precious. I have wanted to be there loving her as much as possible for as long as I am here. This year marked her 5th birthday and also 5 years from my diagnosis and surgery – an enormous milestone I didn’t know that I would make. I still have regular eye ultrasounds, MRIs, and chest x-rays for surveillance. I just rode in a 50K bike ride for cancer research, my husband rode 100K. I am very grateful I had that routine eye exam and for the optometry tech that day. I owe this past 5 years with my daughter and husband to him. I see the importance of routine dilated eye exams as many patients like me do not have any symptoms. We have the tools to detect ocular melanoma early at routine exams. Schedule an appointment and spread the word!  

The MRF’s CURE OM initiative is committed to increasing awareness of OM and the importance of dilated eye exams for early detection, and these efforts are made possible by your support. Please consider a tax-deductible gift today, and if you haven’t already, schedule your annual eye exam and tell your friends and loved ones that #EyeGetDilated!

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