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#EyeGetDilated: It Just Might Save Your Life

Guest blog post by ocular melanoma patient and advocate Karen Kaludov:

When I was in college, a doctor told me my goal was to not get skin cancer before I was 40. The doctor’s “not if but when” mentality seemed harsh, but as a red-head who grew up in sunny California, it was probably true. I put off the recommended annual skin scan until my early 30s, but then became diligent about them. Occasionally I’d get something scraped and sent off to the lab; thankfully each time the results were benign. 

There was a tense visit when I was 47. With concern marked by a furled brow and then a hand on my shoulder, the dermatologist excised a hunk of my face. Some days later I happily learned that yet another bullet had been dodged – benign. 

A few months after that visit where I was almost certain I had skin cancer, I was diagnosed with ocular melanoma (OM). What the heck is that? I wondered. I now know OM is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the pigment producing cells in your eye. While it can happen to anyone of any race, the risk factors are similar to skin cancer: Caucasian, light-colored eyes, those with higher sun exposure. In a nutshell, me. 

Given my regular mammograms, skin checks, dentist visits and annual physicals, I thought I was in control of my health. But I had been missing a critical checkbox on my list. I didn’t know about the importance of fully-dilated eye exams. I’ve always been dismissive about dilated exams, for no reason other than they didn’t seem necessary. There is no history of glaucoma in my family and the optometrists I’ve seen haven’t stressed it too much. Besides, it’s annoying to have increased light sensitivity for a few hours. (For those who have never had their eyes dilated, this is the main side effect). 

I actually had an appointment with an optometrist only a couple of months before my OM diagnosis. The optometrist didn’t even suggest a dilated exam, and instead used a retinal scan machine that looks at “most” of the retina. That scan missed the tumor that was easily detected in the full-dilated eye exam I underwent to investigate the sudden decreased field of vision in my left eye. 

There is no technology that replaces dilation for thoroughly assessing eye health, and OM can be treated successfully if caught early. That is why I now nag anyone and everyone I can to get a fully-dilated eye exam when they turn 40 and during their subsequent exams. Yes, getting dilated is a bit annoying, but it is not painful, and it might just save your life. 

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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