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#EyeGetDilated to Cancel Cancer

Guest blog post by CURE OM advocate, Carrie Rubin:


Cancer is a word that scares anyone that hears it – either because they have it or a loved one has it. I first heard the word back in 1991 when my mom, my best friend, was diagnosed with breast cancer. It broke me in half. She was only 49 years old. The doctors said she would only make it for a year and she fought a great fight but we lost her five years after being diagnosed. 54 is way too young. I always thought if I made it to 49 without getting breast cancer, I was free. At age 48, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The worst part was having to tell my father as he already went through this with my mom. Again, my heart broke in half. But, with the love and support of my amazing family and friends as well as my incredible doctors, I beat it! I canceled my cancer! The five-year mark came in 2017 and I celebrated big!

Two months before my breast cancer diagnosis, I had Lasik surgery. Afterwards, I went for my 30 day check-up and everything was great. I did not return for another year and a half as I was busy dealing with my fight against breast cancer. When I did go back, they noticed a spot in my eye which was not there when it was determined I was a candidate for Lasik (as they do a very thorough exam). At the time I was living in Chicago and was sent to an ophthalmologist there who told me that it was breast cancer that had metastasized to my eye and that I needed to start radiation immediately. I did not get a good feeling about this doctor and immediately went on the hunt to find the best doctors to get additional opinions. I quickly found out that there are only a small number of doctors in the country that are even trained in this. I went to Wills Eye Hospital and saw Dr. Shields (both of them) and they said it was a nevus that needs to be watched to make sure it doesn't change in size and appearance. I then went to Dr. Harbour at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and he said the same thing so I thought I was done and just had this freckle in the front of my eye (which I could see) and that was fine. After a year, I went back to Dr. Shields and it had not changed at all – yea!

Fast forward a couple of years later. I moved to Colorado and went to have my eyes checked for reading glasses. The doctor immediately noticed the spot in my eye and asked if I had had it checked. I told her the story and she said that she wanted me to see Dr. Oliver because he is one of the finest in the country and is here in Colorado. She called him immediately and got me in the very next day (which is scary in itself). Dr. Oliver was incredible – I am so grateful that he is here in Colorado because having a doctor you like and trust is so important! After many pictures and exams, he told me that he wanted to do a biopsy. A biopsy in my eye? Yes, that is the only way to know for sure if it is a freckle or a tumor. Luckily, they were able to squeeze me in just a week later for the procedure.

Results came back the same day I was scheduled to get the stitches removed. Dr. Oliver walked in and I said, “Please tell me it is the ‘f word.’” He had a bit of a shocked look on his face until I said that the “f word” was for freckle!  Immediately, his whole demeanor changed and I knew. I knew it was cancer. I had cancer in my eye. I just could not believe that after beating breast cancer I now had another cancer and this one was a lot scarier. It is one thing to lose your breasts but the possibility of losing your vision or even your entire eye was terrifying. We decided the best route was for me to get plaque radiation. This is where they insert a disc into your eye and it stays there for five long days while releasing radiation. It was five of the most painful days of my life. The great news is that it looks like the radiation worked! After my first follow-up, Dr. Oliver was “astonished” by how it looked. I go back in November to get an ultrasound on my eye so that they can take measurements, but I told Dr. Oliver that there will be nothing to measure because that tumor will be gone!

After being diagnosed, I looked on Facebook to find any support groups and was so fortunate to find a great group. They were having a get together in the Denver area and invited me to join. It was at this meeting that I found out about CURE OM and wanted to get involved immediately. Being a part of a group that raises OM awareness, funds research and helps ocular melanoma patients and their loved ones is something near and dear to my heart.

Ocular melanoma is so rare and very few people have even heard of it. Breast cancer is everywhere, and it is just so different than eye cancer. I have made it a personal mission to let people know the importance of getting their eyes checked on an annual basis. Since I was diagnosed at least 25 friends, or friends of friends, have had their eyes checked – some of them had never even had an eye exam before. Yes, my tumor was in the front of my eye but that is very rare (only 10% are in the front). During a dilated eye exam, the doctor is able to see the back of the eye as well. That is why this fast and painless exam is so important. It should be included in your list of yearly exams, just like a dentist visit and, of course, a mammogram if appropriate.

My eyesight is not the way it was before the plaque but I still have my eye and it has only been 3 months since the surgery so I still have hope! It has been a scary time for me but with the support of my loved ones and an amazing team of doctors, nurses and the rest of my medical team, I am confident that I am doing everything I can to cancel this cancer!

Since her OM diagnosis, Carrie has become a powerful advocate for ocular melanoma awareness and has convinced dozens of friends and loved ones to schedule a dilated eye exam. You can have the same impact – visit www.melanoma.org/EyeGetDilated for free resources and tips to increase OM awareness. To support OM advocates like Carrie and lead us one day closer to a cure, please consider a tax-deductible gift to the MRF's CURE OM initiative.