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#EyeGetDilated: Roger Z.

Guest blog post by Roger Z., OM advocate and an ocular melanoma “caregiver warrior”:

Our journey together began during the summer of 2008. Back then, Chad and I both danced at the same country bar and had several friends in common, but we had never met. I replied to one of Chad’s posts on Facebook, and we soon became inseparable friends.

Fast forward, and even with our 20-year age difference, we were dating by the end of the year. In that same year, Chad began having issues with his eye. He was concerned that something was going on, but the doctors told him otherwise.

After a few years of dating, we moved in together and bought a house. The issues with his eye continued, and the problems started to get worse. I have always offered my support to him, and to comfort him I let him know that I will be there for any health problem that may arise. In 2015, Chad started going back to his original ophthalmologist that he saw in 2008. The ophthalmologist suggested Chad had macular degeneration and started injections in his eye. Every time Chad had an injection, darkness became his best friend. He couldn’t handle even the smallest light for about two days after each injection.

One Saturday morning, the day after an injection, he woke up with a bloodshot eye. It was at that time I told him, “That’s it, we are done playing doctors, we are going to UCLA to get a second opinion.”

Chad was diagnosed with ocular melanoma during the summer of 2015. After a couple of days of partying in LA with some friends, the weekend ended with an OM diagnosis on Monday. I must say, within five minutes we knew what needed to be done. Based on his reaction, I knew a journey was about to begin.

I saw his world collapse right in front of me. Memories of losing his mother to cancer ten years prior began to invade his mind. As we drove back to Vegas, ten thousand questions came out asking me why? Why? Why? Why?

Two months later he had surgery. He decided to remove his eye. Between the time of diagnosis and surgery, we lost most of our friends and Chad began to question relationships as people he thought were friends became strangers while people who he never imagined stepped up to the plate and offered him support during this process.

My goal was him. I wanted him to feel protected and loved and to ensure him that things would be OK. We had to really look at those we surrounded ourselves with, and make sure they were focused on Chad, and what type of support he needed. It was a difficult time discussing this diagnosis with people and realizing that not everyone’s reactions were healthy and what was needed. Chad felt alone at times, but I didn’t hesitate in taking charge and making sure he had the right support around him.

During this time, Chad was registering for one of his last semesters to complete his master’s degree. He wanted to drop out, but I needed him to understand that our lives must go on. Pain is temporary but quitting lasts forever. I knew time would bring peace to him and eventually it did. Chad completed his master’s degree in December 2015.

Throughout this time, I learned how to adapt, to remain positive under pressure and take on the responsibility of being his caretaker. I have determined how to be patient and listen and always be supportive. It has been a blessing to see him become the man he is today.

You may not know it, but when the opportunity to be a caregiver for someone close to you knocks at your door, you might find that the experience enriches your life. You might feel a deep sense of satisfaction, confidence and accomplishment in caring for someone the way you do. You may also learn about inner strengths and abilities that you didn’t even know you had and find a greater sense of purpose for your own life. One person caring for another becomes life’s greatest value.

Caregiving can also be frustrating and painful. Being a caregiver can cause both stress and distress. Dealing with the crisis of cancer in someone you love, the uncertain future, financial worries, difficult decisions and unexpected, unwanted lifestyle changes are just a few of the challenges you may face. Fear, hopelessness, guilt, confusion, doubt, anger and helplessness can take a toll on both the person with cancer and the caregiver. While the focus tends to be on your loved one, all of this will affect your physical and mental health, too. I went through all of these feelings because being a caregiver is a constant learning experience. To the world, you may be just one person, but to that person, you are the whole world.

Dana Reeve wrote: “It is so important as a caregiver not to become so enmeshed in the role that you have to lose yourself. It’s neither good for you nor for your loved one.”

A caregiver warrior finds the strength to care-on even when others appear to care less. I did for my partner, Chad.

No one has to face ocular melanoma alone, and caring for a loved one with OM is an incredible act of love and loyalty. The MRF’s CURE OM initiative is committed to providing the most helpful support resources for both OM patients and their caregivers, completely free of charge. In honor of the dedicated OM caregivers in our community, please consider a tax-deductible donation to support the work of CURE OM.

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