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Guest Post: Dr. Sacks, Ocular Melanoma and Gratitude

Ocular melanoma survivor Anne Marie Montijo reflects on the passing of Dr. Oliver Sacks and her own goal to live each day with a spirit of gratitude.

When Dr. Oliver Sacks died earlier this year from metastatic ocular melanoma (OM), I reflected on his op-ed piece in the New York Times. This past February he disclosed his OM had metastasized to his liver and he didn’t have much time to live. Dr. Sacks stated, “I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written.” Gratitude in the face of adversity; I would expect nothing less from Dr. Sacks. 

We OM patients have walked down that similar path. Fear, anxiety, isolation and despondency are common feelings when first diagnosed. I was not immune to those feelings but they quickly shifted to empowerment, hope, and gratitude. 
For me an entire new world opened up before my very eyes. 
I have remained grateful every day since my diagnosis 9 years ago. That does not mean that there aren’t challenging days, it just makes those days a little less difficult when I’m able to put them in perspective. It  also makes the good days even more enjoyable as I try to cherish every moment. No-one knows how much time they have left on this earth; we don’t know our fate but if we are able to live each day to the fullest surrounded by loving family and friends we can be all the more grateful.  
During my journey I have seen countless friends succumb to this dreaded disease. Friends that I have met virtually through online groups and those that I have met in person and developed deep long lasting friendships with over the years. Friendships that cannot be measured in years, but with your heart.  
I wouldn’t change a thing about my journey and I’ve never asked “why me?” I was meant to travel this road; meant to get deeply involved in the OM community and contribute in whatever way I could to help make this world a better place for everyone. I have made a commitment to the OM community to do everything I can to bring awareness to this disease and to raise much needed funds. Recently, I had one of the most gratifying experiences in my life, when I started a CURE OM team for the Melanoma Research Foundation’s Miles for Melanoma 5k in NYC. Fundraising was never a strength of mine, so I started off with a humble goal of personally raising $1,000 with a team goal of $2,700. To my shock and amazement, our final totals were: (personally) $4,561 and (team) $17,801! 
My life’s goal is to live in the moment, not to dwell too much in the past or think too much about the future, but focus on the moment and most of all feel grateful.  
Written by Anne Marie Montijo, OM survivor and CURE OM advocate