Losing An Eye

These past six years I’ve had a one-eyed view on life, and am glad that I can do most of what I used to do — but, of necessity, more carefully.

A number of scenario can result in losing an eye: trauma during an accident on the farm, job or road; brain tumour; diabetes; and choroidal melanoma. My problem was the latter, a melanoma tumour growing in the choroid layer at the back of my eye and pressing on the retina. I was alerted by ‘firework’ and ‘lava lamp’ effects especially in bright light and when the lights went out at bedtime, and how straight lines were now seen as crooked.

As luck would have it, soon after diagnosis I got the chance to speak over the phone to a woman who’d had an eye removed (“enucleation”) because of melanoma two years prior. Apparently her case was sufficiently bad that there had been no question but to have the eye removed. It was great to be able to ask what sort of adjustments had to be made. A year or so later when I enquired after her, it was to discover she had died after metastasis — that danger being highest at the 12-to-24-month period, I had read, but it waited a little longer in her case.

In the meantime I’d been offered radiotherapy. My tumour was too close to the optic nerve to consider plaque therapy (placing a radioactive disk behind the eye), but there was another approach which the specialists preferred to removal of the eye. However their expectations would be to gain”98% local control” (stop it growing) with no likely reduction of the tumour, and data showed a handful of “radio-induced” side-effects of which my likelihood to suffer was (from memory) 20%, 80%, and several figures averaging 50%.

Out of these factors, 19% of previous patients using that type of radiotherapy had pain sufficiently severe, or had metastasis, that they went ahead to get the eye removed later. That, I thought, was shutting the gate after the horse had bolted.

I saw what I was offered as quite an emotional process to undergo, followed by other things to battle, and three years before it would become evident how well it had worked. I have recently had contact with another person facing the same decision, and was able to tell her what might happen if she chose enucleation. She underwent plaque therapy and has found that interferences to her vision and pain continue: long-term effects of course not yet known.

The surgical process of removing an eye is simple, involved an overnight stay, and healing was quick. After the optic nerve is severed it is cauterised. An implant is placed, to help preserve the integrity of the facial bones. The muscles that were attached to the eye are stretched across and joined by “a spare bit of flesh I found in the socket” (said the surgeon!) so that what is visible under the lid is just a shiny pink layer of flesh. The upper eyelid closes right down because there’s no longer the curve of the eyeball to support it.

Once that is all healed you have the option to procure a prosthetic eye in a type of plastic. It’s likely to be about the size and shape of the ‘bowl’ part of a large teaspoon. They are created by “oculists” who each have their own way of doing it: some via photographs, some by personal observation. I had a mould taken, then over a period of 4 days watched my iris being painted and veins created, had frequent fittings to get the effect adjusted, then Bingo! people had to be told one eye was fake.

After two years there was some apparent sagging down the side of my face. The specialist said that possibly fat inside the socket had dissipated, meaning the marble-sized implant was no longer as big as best needed to maintain the bone structure. The upper eyelid was tending half-closed, and rather than undergo the operation again a new prosthetic seemed a good idea. Yes, that gave a more pronounced curve which supports the eyelid.

In a separate post I’ll mention how the reduction to one eye has affected my life, and what is involved with a prosthetic eye. What I haven’t mentioned so far is that as soon as there was a suggestion it might be cancer, I put myself on a regime of natural supplements and made lifestyle changes that probably ought to have been made before. These measures didn’t conquer melanoma but appeared to have stopped in its tracks another suspected cancer and very possibly strengthened my body to resist anything further. With a lowered Toxic Burden I’m continuing to do the same work as before… just with one eye less.

Watch for the follow-up post, and do PLEASE ask any questions or make comments below. That’s what this is for.




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