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#EyeGetDilated So That No One Else Has To Experience Such a Great Loss

Guest blog post by Jim Mills, CURE OM community member and ocular melanoma caregiver:

My name is Jim Mills, I am the husband and caregiver to my late wonderful and beautiful wife Leeanne Michelle Mills. My wife (my honey) and I were friends for 38 years and married for 30 years. 

In 2011, my wife Leeanne was diagnosed with ocular melanoma (OM), an extremely rare eye cancer where only 6 people in 1 million are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. It is an aggressive eye cancer with no known cause and no known cure.

I am sharing our story of eye cancer diagnosis, vision loss, the challenges and heartache of battling a rare cancer and the loss of that cancer battle. My hope is that something good can result out of something very personal and very tragic.

During the fall of 2010 and throughout early 2011, my wife Leeanne would suffer from flashes of light and floaters in the vision of her left eye.  My wife mentioned these symptoms to several doctors she was seeing for other medical treatments, but most of the doctors dismissed her symptoms or attributed them to migraine headaches that my honey was experiencing.

In late June 2011, after the loss of all peripheral vision in her left eye, my wife revisited her eye doctor. She was diagnosed with ocular melanoma in early July 2011, her left eye was treated later that month and the treatment appeared successful. In November 2013, my honey’s eye cancer dreadfully returned and metastasized to her liver; the cancer spread throughout her body and would eventually take my honey from me on August 3rd, 2016.

My honey Leeanne had a made a habit of regular eye exams, but only after she and I found that we needed glasses for reading did these visits become part of our annual doctor visits. 

My honey did have an eye exam with dilation in July 2010 and Leeanne’s optometrist noticed something unusual in the back of her eye during this exam. However, when he looked again, he could not relocate it and he dismissed it.

Although in our case the doctor did not investigate the suspicious abnormality in my wife’s eye, in most cases this situation would not be typical. Most optometrists would have investigated further and if deemed necessary, referred their patient to an eye specialist. 

Many vision and eye health issues can be treated successfully if they are detected early. Many Americans, especially those who don’t wear eye glasses, do not consider eye exams as a necessity or a priority in their annual health and wellness plan. There are many eye and vision issues that can only be detected with a thorough eye exam where the eyes are dilated.

In my honey’s case, had our doctor referred my wife to a specialist, the cancer could have been detected much sooner.  This detection could have increased the odds of successfully treating my wife’s eye cancer, which could have saved both her eye and much, if not all, of my wife’s left eye vision. It also could have saved my honey’s life.

We learned so many important and valuable lessons during our ocular melanoma cancer battle. We learned just how important annual eye exams with dilation are, and the need for them to be part of our annual health and wellness plan.

We also learned just how important it is for each patient to become an advocate for themselves when the answers that you receive from a physician don’t answer your questions or just don’t add up to a reason for your symptoms.  

Please learn from our tragedy and make annual eye examinations with eye dilation part of your family’s annual health and wellness plan so that no one else has to experience eye health challenges and the potential for such a great loss.

Ocular melanoma is the most common form of eye cancer in adults, affecting approximately 2,000 new families each year. A yearly dilated eye exam is an important way to monitor for a number of eye conditions, including ocular melanoma. If you haven't had a dilated eye exam this year, schedule your appointment soon. To support the work of CURE OM, please consider a tax-deductible gift today.