Sarah's Cancer Journey
​At the age of 23 and 1 year after college graduation, I was living in Dallas and started to experience recurring migraines. After frequent doctor visits for migraine medicine and days of missing work, my doctor ordered a CT scan of my head…just to rule out any irregularities. I almost didn’t get the scan done—I didn’t have anything wrong. I was young and fine. But I finally did the scan out of desperation to treat my migraines. A couple hours after the CT scan, my doctor called with news (I now know a call a few hours after a scan is usually not good news). The CT scan showed a detached retina, and she was referring me to a ophthalmologist/retina specialist to be seen in the next couple days.

I spent hours at the ophthalmologist’s office, including dilated eye exams, ultrasounds of my eyeballs, pictures of the back of my eye. After hours of testing, another doctor in the same practice came to see me. I had a mass on the back of my left eye, and it was Ocular Melanoma. No, I didn’t know what that meant. My doctor explained that it was very rare and he could treat it; but if he had a healthy, 23-year-old daughter he would send her to the OM (Ocular Melanoma) specialists in Philadelphia, PA – Dr. Shields & Shields.

One month later I am in Philadelphia, PA for about two weeks. Day 1 was spent with hours in the doctor’s office titled “Ocular Oncology,” with the same tests as done in Dallas. Then, I was sent to a small patient room where the two doctors along with about five students huddled around. It was confirmed – Ocular Melanoma. And I could have plaque radiation in a couple of days. This involved a surgery where a disc with radiation beads was sewn to the back of my eye, a 5-day stay in a hospital room with a lead eye patch to reduce radiation exposure to outside of my eye, and another surgery to remove the plaque. Surgery wasn’t so bad, but staying in one room for five days with nurses trying to convince you to move around the room and act as normal as possible while it felt like there was a huge something in your eye was rough. But I made it.

All checkups of my eye post-surgery showed the tumor had shrunk to a size they could barely find in scans. Woo hoo! Biopsy results of the tumor during the disc insertion surgery showed that I had a higher chance of metastasis (spreading of the OM to other parts of my body). Not such a good feeling. In fact, it was terrifying to think this could show up somewhere else in my body at any time. I started to have regular scans of my liver and lungs every six months. A CT of the lungs takes all of ten minutes, but an abdomen MRI takes almost an hour and involves heavy breathing exercises, loud noises, and claustrophobia. Luckily, the results of those scans kept coming back as “unremarkable.”

So, I lived my life as much as possible as a young, twenty-something in a big city with a good job and fun friends! I went out to bars, met more friends, attended fabulous parties, traveled to fun places. I even went to grad school and became certified in my profession. Just when my schedule was overbooked, I met a guy who I tried to convince I was “too busy” for. He stuck around until I finished my degree and certification and we moved back to our home state of Arkansas, six years after my OM diagnosis.

Life was good and easy. I was home, started a new job at a great company, got married, bought a house, and was content! Two years after the move and eight years after my OM diagnosis, spots showed up on my liver in a routine, six-month abdomen MRI. I spent months traveling back and forth to MD Anderson to see an oncologist who specializes in OM. A lung nodule was biopsied and came back as pneumonia – whew, such a relief to not be OM! My liver spots were finally big enough to be biopsied (over 1 cm) and were confirmed to be OM. MD Anderson offered me a clinical trial, where I wasn’t sure which treatment I would be randomly selected to have.

After a lot of research, I decided to go to the doctor who regularly performed liver directed chemotherapy (IHP – isolated hepatic perfusion) in Pittsburgh, PA. It was a ten-hour surgery where they opened up my abdomen, blocked off my liver from the rest of my body, and pumped chemo into and out of my liver. The chemo was too strong to run throughout my entire body, but the liver is able to handle this kind of chemo. The surgery was a roaring success, but recovery took a long time. I was out of work for 10 weeks, and my physical exercise was restricted to only walking for a year.

In March 2018, a little over a year after liver surgery, an abdomen MRI showed more spots in the liver. I am traveling to Philadelphia, PA in June to see an oncologist specializing in Ocular Melanoma for immunoembolization (IE) – liver-directed immunotherapy which boosts the immune system to fight cancer. I have high hopes for this treatment, and the oncologist and his medical assistant have been amazing to work with. I trust them and look forward to improvement in my health with their help!

In August 2018, I will celebrate 10 years of survivorship of Ocular Melanoma with a celebratory party and fundraiser for the Ocular Melanoma Foundation (OMF). Food, drinks, and fun will be had by attendees to celebrate my anniversary, and all proceeds raised will be donated to OMF to support Ocular Melanoma research.
COME CELEBRATE WITH ME!