In 2007 I was treated for ocular melanoma in my left eye. The two possible treatments were removal of the eye, or proton beam radiation, which is done through a cyclotron (at the time only available 3 places in the United States). I felt very fortunate that the proton beam radiation treatment was available just 20 minutes from my home, at UC Davis.
I have continued to see my eye tumor specialist every 6 months to have my eye pictured and prodded, and to have an ultra sound to measure the remaining tumor. My vision in that eye has gradually gotten worse the past few years.
The vision changes are a result of cataracts in that eye, probably a consequence of the treatment. The cataracts can’t be treated because there is bleeding inside the eye and cataract surgery would likely make me go blind. This week, in an effort to find out what the bleeding was about, they injected my bloodstream with yellow dye and watched what happened in the eye.
They found out that the blood vessels that were damaged by the radiation in 2007 are trying to repair themselves. They are creating new blood vessels, but aren’t doing a very good job of it. Those attempted new blood vessels are leaking into my eye.
So, to stop that bleeding, they did a laser treatment on that eye, destroying the part of the retina where those blood vessels are trying to grow. This doesn’t affect my sight because of the location of the tumor on the retina. But it was traumatic for me and my eye.
They will check it again in 6 weeks to make sure there is no more bleeding. Hopefully, in 6 months, I will be able to have cataract surgery to restore good sight to that eye.
At the time I chose to go through with the original treatment, I was told there was a 97% cure rate. Who wouldn’t go for that? This week they told me that more than 50% of those “cured” people have that cancer show up somewhere else in their bodies. Interesting that they didn’t tell me that at the beginning, but I should have been suspicious when the eye tumor specialist said I would see her periodically for the rest of my life.
I am still grateful that the cancer was treated “successfully,” and am again reminded how much collateral damage cancer treatments cause. Many of the bodily stresses I am currently dealing with are a result somehow of the treatments I’ve had for cancer over the past 25 years. I don’t mean to complain, but I think as more of us are surviving, it is important to acknowledge that one never goes back to the old “normal.” Our bodies, minds, and souls have been changed.