In October 2013, I underwent surgery in Arizona to remove a tumor in my left eye. Waking up after surgery, I vividly remember asking my surgeon if he’d been able to remove the entire tumor.
I immediately understood what his “no” meant, and a biopsy confirmed what we all feared: I had adenoid cystic carcinoma of the lacrimal gland, a rare and aggressive form of eye cancer.
My doctor hadn’t treated many adenoid cystic carcinoma patients, but he gave me a grim prognosis. To save my life, I needed to have my left eye removed.
Finding hope at MD Anderson
As a last effort, I did some online research. As I learned, there aren’t many doctors with the experience and knowledge needed to treat my rare eye cancer effectively. Through my research I found Bita Esmaeli, M.D., an ophthalmologist at MD Anderson who is renowned for remarkable advances in lacrimal gland cancer treatment. My husband and I traveled to see her – a decision that saved my life.
When I first met Dr. Esmaeli, I knew I had been led to an angel. There are no words to express the love I feel for her. She informed me that I was a candidate for globe-sparing surgery, which would save my eye. In addition to the surgery, she recommended that I receive proton therapy and adjuvant chemotherapy. Suddenly, there was hope where none had been before.
I was the ninth person in the world to receive this treatment, and Dr. Esmaeli worked closely with Steven Frank, M.D., and Lauren Byers, M.D., to personalize it for me. My care team worked together extensively, and their compassion for me made a huge difference in my recovery. On April 2, 2014, I rang the gong at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center and was declared cancer-free.
Small prices to pay
My land of healing and hope, that’s how I will always refer to MD Anderson. Each time I’m there for follow-up appointments, I’m renewed with inspiration and a sense of peace.
My journey at MD Anderson was difficult at times, but it also was such a blessing. I look a little different these days. My left eye is not exactly what it used to be, I’m minus an eyebrow, I have some double vision and a few other issues. But these are small prices to pay for hope and life.
I’ve been cancer-free for two years, and I still celebrate because I now know just how precious life is. A few things I learned along the way and believe with all my heart bear repeating:
- Don’t look back. Focus your energy on the battle ahead.
- A positive attitude is everything.
- Celebrate your caregivers who unselfishly fight alongside you – and draw your strength from them.
Finally, always remember that there is life after cancer. I’m living proof.